I spent some time in a local used bookstore, yesterday. I impulse-bought some books by various authors I've been meaning to check out, but since I haven't read them yet, I'm not sure they're worth full price at Amazon, yet.
See, I do shop at Amazon. I think there is value in convenience, and "vote" for that in my own life. The bookstore made me sad, however, because it's one of those huge, dusty ones where you never know what you're going to find...a dinosaur of a bookstore, a prime example of a dying breed.
One day this kind of place might be one that we remember, but can't get to any longer. That makes me sad.
And yet, I'm not resentful of Ebooks and technology, either--I think it's great that e-publishing allows people to self-publish and distribute their own work. I think it's important to have a broad diversity in sources for information. I think, poking around this bookstore, that what I worry about most is the longevity of our information, in the era of e-books. These books are old. And yet they still exist, and are available to anyone who wants them. In a collection of old books, one can find old ideas: cookbooks that preserve old methods or outdated ideas about food. Political biographies that reflect the biases of their generation, preserved even after the passage of time has altered the status quo. Outdated literature. Outdated science. Outdated parenting. Outdated knitting patterns. Any person, with any set of interests, can wander through a used bookstore and contextualize their interests, and seat them in a tradition of history. They can refer back to other periods as needed: although that was the way we used to do/think/be, this is the way we do/think/are now.
I worry about the vulnerability of a world documented only digitally. Before Hurricane Sandy, as everyone prepared to be without power for indefinite periods of time, I wondered "what happens to our collective knowledge, if the grid goes out long term, and all our personal libraries are on kindles?"
The sharing of books is primarily why I don't, myself, use an e-reader. I like to own what I buy, and I don't like the way e-book buying is basically just renting the text for the longevity of your service providing company, or the lifespan of that digital file format, whichever is shortest.
Books, printed books, have longevity: they have longer lifespans than humans, for the most part. And they can be shared, recycled, reused, and freely passed around between people. "Here, I'm done with these ideas, I don't want to store them, maybe I didn't even like them so much in the first place...but here, you are welcome to them." And also if I change my mind, I will be able to pick up another copy somewhere else for next-to-nothing some day. I worry about how that changes a culture, when we get a couple of decades out and have gaps in our history and knowledge, periods of time in which entire bodies of knowledge slip into a void of nonexistence, like VHS tapes no-one's bothered to digitize, my body of student work forever preserved on floppy disks, or all those abandoned MySpace accounts. We are becoming a people accustomed to abandoning our own productions, thinking, and records, and just moving on to the next thing.
In the space of that used bookstore, I am reminded of all the things we have lost, and still stand to lose.
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.