By Anna Peterpaul
— It’s now so easy to order books online that the very notion of exiting the house and driving to a musty little hole-in-the-wall bookstore may leave you tired. Shopping online saves time: Zero in on the book you want, credit card in hand, click “place your order,” and voilà—you’re finished. The exercise is a sign that you’re well integrated into the presumably laudable world of contemporary technology, a world nostalgia-dwellers and Luddites disdain.
And I fancy myself a combination Luddite and romantic. I’m not prepared to go as far as sabotaging machinery, but technology is not what it’s cracked up to be. Cyber thieves are lurking to steal your personal information. If you happen to press the wrong button in your online transactions, the computer gods are unforgiving. Isn’t this supposed to be time-saving—not nerve-wracking?
On the other hand, the little tucked-away bookstore is humble, still daring to exist. Upon entering a store, my attitude isn’t one of cold efficiency. I wonder if I’ll come across a great work that will transport me to another world, a book astonishing in its beauty and portrayal of the human condition. Standing in the aisles, I am surrounded by objects I can actually touch, page through, weigh in my hands. I am free to physically handle the book, and there’s no interface directing me to click now, look here, close that. There is nothing like touching a book to get a sense of its essence—in contrast to a virtual perusal in cyberspace illusions.
Numbers of bookstore customers are shrinking thanks to the lure of technology and advertising’s vice-grip. Sure, I’ve bought books over the Internet for the same reason everyone else has. It’s fast and mostly efficient. It’s also mind numbing. Perhaps it’s the lack of tactile sensation, the lost opportunity to bump elbows with other knowledge-craving community members , or the absence of satisfaction at being surrounded by all kinds of printed material, but buying in cyberspace leaves a psychic void.
Seeing volumes of books close and upfront is stimulating, an awakening of the senses. This is in stark contrast to the impersonal Internet where the object is to hawk books like kitchenware. The driving force behind online book sales is profit, make no bones about it. Perhaps it’s this greed cloaked in the mantle of speed and efficiency that’s most distasteful. That, and the realization that soon bookstores may be a source of nostalgia: Ah, those good old days of rummaging through the musty aisles of a physical store, touching real covers and pages, questing for a good read.
Anna Peterpaul also blogs: notes-america.blogspot.com/