Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End of Books?

I think I might have a heart attack: Borders is closing. Yes, for those of you who haven't heard, the bookstore chain is officially going belly-up and will be shuttering its 399 remaining stores in the United States. I, for one, am devastated. In fact, I dreamed about the Borders liquidation sale all last night! (Ok, it was about all the bargains I was going to scoop up. In the dream, I went back multiple times and I even remember the books I was looking at! Ted kept trying to get me to leave but I was still wandering around the store)
Why am I devastated, you ask? I mean, there is still Barnes & Noble and Amazon. (Another guilty pleasure of mine. Some women love Coach or Christian Louboutin. I love Simon & Schuster and Little, Brown.) The media seems to be trumpeting the end of paper books and the triumph of e-readers such as the Kindle. I think that would be a travesty. One of the things I love about reading is how it engages your senses - not only visually, but feeling the heft of the book, the texture of the pages, even the way it smells. We have an iPad and I have downloaded books onto it, but I don't find the experience nearly as satisfying. And I love seeing the books I have read sitting on my shelf. Those books I don't think I will ever read again I give away or donate, but favorites, or ones I will refer to again, remain. While you have a "bookshelf" on an e-reader, it's not a physical structure. You can't just look at it; you have to turn it on and navigate to the appropriate place. In other words, what I don't like is that it is a representation of something physical; it's not real, it doesn't truly exist. And perhaps that is what I fear? That in our increasingly digital world, things will become one-dimensional?  What does this mean for us as human beings - what impact will it have on us, the way we perceive the world and its impact on society?
Okay, perhaps I am getting a bit hyperbolic. To tone it down a bit, I go to bookstores, particularly Borders because it is right down the street, as an escape. It is quiet, unlike my house. I can get a cup of coffee. No one needs anything from me. I can browse the stacks and let my imagination wander. To read a book requires a certain amount of concentration and quiet, two things that are hard for me to come by these days. Even as I am writing this post, there is someone outside my door, chattering about an airplane and wanting breakfast. So I am sad that Borders is closing. My "escape" will not be so close. But who knows if Barnes & Noble is next? The super bookstores edged out the independents. What happens when Amazon and e-readers edge out the superstores? Ok, I know that this is the least of all problems in the world, but I do think the Internet and all its accoutrements are impacting society for sure. Email makes interacting less personal. Texting is leading to poor spelling and grammar among our youth today. As a whole, we are becoming less social. Pretty soon, we won't have to leave our houses for anything: books, groceries, conversation. Then what happens?

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