Why Bookstores Matter in the 21st Century.
Analog books in a world made of screens.
I met my wife at a bookstore. She was a bookseller and I was a barista at Borders. It’s an adorable story, the stuff of rom-coms, but my nostalgia for the past isn’t the reason why I think bookstores matter.
The reason they matter is because of browsing.
You know, browsing? That thing we used to do to find things that maybe we’d like, maybe we wouldn’t, but if it sucked at least we’d have a story to share with people. Browsing still happens today, but it’s become curated, and not by people with names (Unlike you, Frances) but rather A.I. who won’t ever have names because their parents never truly loved them.
A.I. led algorithms have been invading every facet of our lives in order to make sure we’re comfortable. They make sure we find things that only interest ourselves and hide away the things that it thinks we would hate. The only problem is that by hiding away those things we ‘don’t’ like we are being presented with choices that are limited.
Limited world views are why the earth is dying, so, Netflix please stop hiding shitty movies from me. I do like watching them from time to time and hate using your search.
Browsing helps us grow
I often like to think of the algorithm as an overbearing mother bird who loves to shove our favorite food down our beak. Yes, it’s good, but what if I want something different? The problem with most streaming or online shopping is that it utilizes the choices you’ve made before in order to generate the next thing that pops up in front of you. It’s like a heavily scripted video game, sure you can try to go off the beaten path, but more than likely it will lead to your untimely death and you’ll have to reload from your last save point.
Being in a bookstore, walking through the stacks, it is very likely you will find something you weren’t expecting to find and take it home. This accidental find has led to many moments of happiness and grief, but either way, it helps us find out what we do and don’t like and we make that choice actively. It leads toward an experience that affects both the body and the mind because both have to be used when we’re browsing in a store.
Then there’s the last element.
Humans screwing up the place!
Humans screwing up has led to a variety of great inventions from silly putty to chewing gum. It also aids in the great soup that is browsing.
Abandoning items in the incorrect sections has aided the lives of many customers while simultaneously being the bane of every employee. Mis-shelved items can expose us to so many wonderful things like a new author or if you’re 12 year old me, boobs, because someone ditched the Kama Sutra in the comic book section at Crown Books in 1999.
These moments will be lost in time.
Because bookstores are dying.
Many people love bookstores. They love to go and visit them and walk around and smell the books in them and then leave never to return but will tell everyone about how it was so cute. Then they wonder why said bookstore has announced their closure on their website.
If you don’t support local you will lose local. You will lose that expert on all things good and have them replaced by a math equation who asks too many questions. Humans generally enjoy one another, but as of late we’re being told that isn’t the case. We’re either Nazis or Morons and never anything in-between. That’s because our online habits have curated our point of view into a monolife.
No one will ever find a misplaced book in their Amazon lists and because of that perfect shopping experience humanity will be the worse for it.