Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Scarcity Of Collecting Books

When I was a kid I used to collect coins, stamps, baseball cards, magazines, and other items. As I got older I built up a collection of books, CDs, and sad clown figurines. But I look around today and wonder how a world that converts its products, communications, and experiences into digital media will collect things. Will we value the physical items more or less a decade from now?

Everything is going to the online universe. Magazines, DVDs, CDs, newspapers, books, and other collectibles will either disappear or continue to shrink drastically. Google will be the one to store things for us. Want to see a 2007 newspaper? Google it. Want to listen to a song from 1997? Download it. Want to read a book from three years ago? Just get the ebook. At some point the physical products will no longer be easily accessible or even available to us.

All things physical are going out of style. The touchable is out of fashion.

It seems sad for those who treasure the physical to see how these things will disappear but for those weaned on the digital they fail to understand how something could ever be gone or go away. To them, everything will always exist online and be available to them for 99 cents or free. They feel more connected to the electronic dots than to the real thing in their hands. But real life doesn’t work that way. Who will curate, store, and maintain all of the vast amounts of expanding digital data that has circulated out there? Will technology outgrow the ability to ‘read’ or interact with old data the way today’s iPod cannot play an 8-track tape?

The virtual world seems to be absorbing everything. Even art. People are now collecting digital art online. Will we no longer see art in museums? Will artists no longer use paint, pencil or ink? Will we even use human artists – or will we use computers to spit out all permutations and combinations of coloring in the dots of a screen?

I am not sure what to make of our movement, as a society, to a less physical world. Everything seems to exist in a little digital box. We have gone from seeing people in person to phone calls to emailing to the indirect communication of random Facebook postings. We no longer hold things in our hands – photos, magazines, books, newspapers – it is all digitized and neatly stored somewhere in space. But it is never in front of us -- on a coffee table, a shelf, or a desk. It is all boxed away into x’s and o’s that are coded away in the vast and ever-expanding world of cyberspace.

Our physical things are going through a reverse big bang – we are downsizing and shrinking the physical world but life is growing exponentially in the invisible digital ether. The robotic world is getting bigger in proportion to the human world’s downsizing.

I love to go home to see my parents in Brooklyn, not only to see them and the old neighborhood that I was raised in, but because I get to open a trunk that is over a hundred years old and touch my childhood. Diaries, scrapbooks, old Met yearbooks, drawings, photo albums, records, newspaper clips, magazine covers, and other little treasures await me. Will you hug your cell phone 30 years from now?

The idea that people no longer have books in their house on display, boggles my mind. It would be like a home without a mirror. Books reflect us and also call out to us. They are so very special and yet the Twilight Zone growth of ebooks may one day wipe out book collections.

Is all of this natural evolution? Is humanity’s fate that technology take it over, first serve it and then eclipse it the way the slave one day rules the master? Technology is great when it enhances our lives, but not when it replaces the very things that humanize us. As our physical closeness to things moves towards extinction, I shed a virtual tear.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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