Time waits for no one, as an old song goes. When I was a kid I used to marvel at talking to adults who told me about growing up without television. That just boggled my mind. And my grandmother, who was born in 1881, would tell me about life before the automobile, airplane, radio, Polio vaccine, refrigerator, and indoor plumbing. I just could not fathom such living.
It never occurred to me then that I would live long to hear young people extol technology they couldn’t live without, or I’d have to face big transformations in my life. Personal computers, the internet, ebooks, GPS, cell phones, VHS, CD and DVD players, Facebook, texting, Twitter are inventions that change our society at an unrelenting pace.
Two of my favorite pastimes growing up were shopping for records and books. I loved record and bookstores. Whenever I’d visit a new city I’d seek out its best bookstores and music shops. I really miss flipping through bins of LPs two or three times a week. CDs were an exciting invention, but their tiny size ruined the love of the album cover. Now even CDs are disappearing and I quit shopping at music stores years ago. I got used to it. Time rolls on.
My greatest identity in life is as a bookworm, and sadly bookstores are failing all around me. Sales of hardbacks and paperbacks are way down from one year ago. Yesterday, the local paper said my favorite bookstore is likely to go under unless the landlord makes major concessions to a liquidator that bought it. And that’s partly my fault. I’m reading and buying more books than ever, but I get them from Audible.com or Amazon.com, or used from ABEBooks.com (all three owned by Amazon). For every ten books I read, nine I listen to, and one I read. And that one I read is mainly in paper form now, but my Kindle will probably supplant that. Time marches on.
Read “What Is a Book? The Definition Continues to Blue” for one of many ways in how publishing is evolving. I get the feeling I’m living in times like when books went from scribe produced scrolls to Guttenberg printed volumes. I’ve been messing around with ebook readers since the 1998 Rocket ebook. Visionaries back then predicted a quick transition to ebooks, so I’ve sort of been expecting the change. But when it was announced recently that hardback sales were down 43% from a year ago, and paperbacks down 41.5%, I was shocked it was really happening. Kindles, Nooks and iPads are the future of books. Oh, I don’t think they will disappear, people still ride horses and buy LPs, but time is relentless, and change comes whether we want it or not.
I wonder if books will become collector items now? But I’ve changed too, and I’d like to get rid of my book collection. If I retire and start moving around the weight of my collection will be a heavy burden. Ditto for my CDs. Digital is just too damn convenient to ignore. I loved bookstores, but I actually made more bookworm friends online than I ever did at a store.
And there are unimagined kinds of changes too. Who could have predicted that a whole generation would grow up stealing their music, books and video? They think everything should be free. Did communism win after all? If someone had told me as a teenager that bookstores and record stores would disappear and everything I wanted could be had for free on little gadgets I would have imagined a science fictional dystopian future. Nor could I have pictured a future where kids wouldn’t sit around and listen to records together, but instead choose to live in their own little iPod worlds.
Time will continue to march relentlessly forward regardless of my wishes. On one hand I want to feel wimpy and cry over the bookstores, but on the other hand I want to say “Fuck you time, bring it on, I can take whatever comes.” If the bookstores close I won’t read any less. I’m sure magazines and newspapers will be reborn as beautiful swans on future tablet computers. And I’m sure super multimedia books will dazzle us and we’ll think of hardbacks as quaint as parchment.
I do miss the record store, but I don’t regret they are gone. I’m listening to far more music than ever with my subscription to Rhapsody. Instead of owning 1,500 albums, I have access to millions. The internet is better than any newspaper or magazine that’s ever published.
It’s like when I was a kid talking to old people – I pitied them for having to grow up in a world without TV. Well, I’m not going to feel self-pity because time bulldozed over my nostalgic habits. Sorry bookstores, it was nice while it lasted. I expect someday to talk to children and tell them how I used to read by holding words printed on paper and their little minds will boggle at the thought of such primitive living.
NOTE: I sat down here to write a cry in my beer post lamenting that I might be losing my favorite bookstore Davis-Kidd. I truly love bookstores, but as I wrote and rewrote I realized time has already changed me and I was just feeling nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, I expect bookstores to be around for years to come, but their days are numbered. Time changes everything, and time does not stop. I hate that so much in my life is no more or has changed beyond recognition, and it’s okay to feel a twinge of weepiness for the old days now and again, but I also know it would be unhealthy to cling to the past.
JWH – 4/23/11