I won’t be the first to say this and I won’t be the last: the digital age sucks big time—the digital age is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us.
A certain dichotomy.
As I read an article in the current USA Today about the fact that stockholders don’t have confidence that Barnes and Noble Book Sellers can compete in the “digital” age, I was at once appalled at the ultimate consequence of this belief and/or train of thought.
I will admit: I have an Android phone and I think it is just below the invention of sliced bread. I can make regular phone calls, respond to text messages, check my e-mail, listen to music, watch videos and surf the web on this amazing device. This little phone, which can fit in my shirt pocket, is a more powerful computer than the Mac SE that my wife wrote her first book on.
However, the changing landscape that this digital age has brought to the forefront is not necessarily in my best interest.
Contrary to a lot of what is happening “content” wise from an internet standpoint, I am an old-timer in my approach to the world.
I still like going into a bookstore, buying a cup of coffee and looking through the shelves for a book or two that I might be interested in. I still believe that God takes delight in what I do on a daily basis and will accompany me through my travels and highlight stuff that I might be interested in. I know I just got a little spiritual for some of you, but bear with me.
The physical act of walking through a bookstore, interacting with the employees, and walking away with a physical find is still a process that sets my soul into overdrive.
The computer, however fast and slick the browser and experience can be, can never take the place of interacting with real human beings. You cannot feel the pages of the book across the wireless. There are no smells or physical sensations associated with the URl that I have accessed through my desktop or mobile device.
In a nutshell I would say that we have been compromised.
Last week, on a trip to Wrightsville Beach on the North Carolina coast, we took a travel stop for coffee and browsing at our “local” Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Winston-Salem. After putting in my coffee order, I took a left to the poetry section only to find that it wasn’t where it had been anymore. I went to the desk and asked about it and was pointed to the shelf or two that now housed this particular collection. When I began to scan the shelves, I was acutely aware that the section had been almost demolished from what I had come to expect from it. We are talking about stopping at this particular bookstore every time we passed through Winston over the past 8 to 10 years. Without fail. The fact that there is a Macaroni Grill (a favorite restaurant) that shares the same parking lot is inconsequential. This is what you do when you venture off the mountain that is Boone, North Carolina.
The staff was very nice in trying to diffuse my questions as to what had happened to the poetry section I had come to know and love.
“I know we re-arranged things, but I don’t think we sent a whole lot of books back”, one clerk I talked with said. “You know, poetry doesn’t really sell all that well”, was her retort when it looked like I wasn’t going to let a dead dog lie (sorry). My response was perhaps ill advised, but when I told her I knew quite well that there was at least half of the section gone, she could only shrug and walk away—knowing that another day awaited her and things would be a lot better once I left.
So, not to be denied my find, I went to the periodical section and picked the latest Mother Jones magazine and took it to the checkout counter—where upon I told the guy behind the register what I had discovered (big secret) and that this discovery did not bode well for our collective culture. He replied with a “…I could have told you that several years ago”. With this retort ringing in my head, I paid my bill and as I walked out of the store, silently mourned my loss—a loss which most can not share—and the realization that this might be the last time I stop by this particular bookstore on my way to anywhere.
Indeed—it is the end of an age as I reckon it. I don’t want a Kindle, an I Pad or any other digital device wherein I might read my latest literary find. I want “hands-on” all hands on deck. I want sights and smells and turning physical pages. I want the hunt and the satisfaction that comes from discovering the next great poet or author. I want human interaction.
Is that asking to much.
For the stock holders, it just may be. Is the writing on the wall or are we the ones who control it.
I really don’t want digital delivery—I want paper and ink and all that that entails.
Yet we really can’t say how long that will be an option.
It is a self-fulfilling prophesy—if they don’t carry what I want and I am forced to do business online, it will just hasten the demise of what I have come to love and understand—and that my friends seems to be the way things are going.