(insert theme music from Brazil here)

(In which I present another possibility for the future of the physical book, because I felt there just wasn’t enough talk about the whole thing.)

Friday and Saturday, the stars aligned and I had—wait for it—two days off in a row.  I know! It was heavenly! And on the second day, I made a trip to the farmers’ market and read (the Contract With God trilogy, fantastic) in the park. Beautiful day, yummy apples, great book.

And then my phone said, “doodle doodle doo.” I looked at it, of course. 2 new emails, neither important, and about 80 tweets in the last hour from people I follow.  Started reading them, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  Maybe I should check my blog reader, I thought.  Then I thought, what the hell is wrong with me? I’m outside on a great day reading a great book and I’m feeling obligated to keep up with the 140-character thoughts of over 200 people?  No offense to the folks I follow on Twitter, all of whom are incredibly fascinating, of course, I just couldn’t believe the extent to which I was freaked out about “missing something” on a Saturday morning.  Same thing with email. I’ve always been a habitual email refresher, and my phone just aids & abets. It sits in my purse and whenever it makes a little noise, I excuse myself from whatever I’m doing, and check what is, half the time, an advertisement.

So I took the day off from the internet on Saturday. I put my phone away and disabled my internet access and just…had a day. Read some more, cleaned, watched Adam’s Rib and began to wonder if in fact Katherine Hepburn is secretly my great-aunt or something. Invented the umpteenth variation on my basic couscous recipe.  It wasn’t the perfect day, but it was nice. And a piece of that was disengaging from the ever-present Internet on purpose. The more of the day I spent not with the Internet, the more I spent not giving a shit about it. So what if another #amazonfail was happening? I was reading, don’t bother me.

This experiment wasn’t perfect; for example, my inattention to the phone for 12 hours caused family members to worry and even call the store to see what was going on. (In future, I will be sure to announce my days off so nobody worries that I am dead.) But I will definitely do it again.

Of course, even on my days off I can’t stop thinking about <serious voice> THE FUTURE OF THE PRINTED BOOK </serious voice>. So I was wondering at the end of my disconnected day, could this be a future trend, people taking the day off from connectivity? I think we all know the stress that comes from being too plugged-in.  I’m feeling it, and I’m a member of the connected generation, the generation with thumb calluses from texting, the generation that feels in emoticons, the generation with ethernet cables for veins. Despite my well-documented enthusiam for technology, some days I feel like checking email and Twitter and blogs any time after 10am is like trying to merge onto I-95 at 75 mph without slowing down.  I can imagine a near future where people say, “hey, just so you know, Friday I’m disconnecting for the day.” And that’s that.

And what will people do on the days they choose to disconnect? Probably the same things I did. Watch a movie, clean the house, make couscous, and maybe even…read a book! A real book. Not connected to anything! With paper and glue and even that o-so-worshiped book smell that is everybody’s first reason to defend physical books.  I still think e-books will be part of the future and that as booksellers we need to understand them, but I also think e-books and physical books will come to serve different purposes in our lives, different delivery for different types of content.

To that end, I think an important part of the physical book’s future will be a refuge from the always-on, always-running digital culture.  I love digital culture, I’m happy to be a part of it—I love connecting with people I wouldn’t know otherwise, I love how quickly we’re beginning to come up with ideas, I love the sheer number of new things I learn everyday (even if it’s making my TBR pile more unwieldy than usual).  But it can wear me down. I’m sure I’m not the only one.  And I bet books will be a place to which we turn to stop and breathe and enjoy the feeling of devoting all our attention to just one person telling us one story at a time.

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8 comments so far

  1. pausetowonder on

    Great post. I’ve been getting that same OHMIGOD I might miss something panic with Twitter and I’m starting to worry about it encroaching on my reading time–which I already have so little of..

    I remember reading a science fiction novel eons ago–whose name I’ve forgotten–anyhow, the only thing I remember from it was a description of some kind of information overload syndrome where people would just become overwhelmed by it all and keel over bleeding from the ears. Completely understand this now. Taking days off sounds like a good idea!

    (Look at how excited I am to have more than 140 characters! I completely blathered on…)

  2. pausetowonder on

    …and forgot to leave my twitter address!

  3. Ruth @ Bookish Ruth on

    I’ve had a few forced disconnect days (If thunderstorms knock out our power, it’s often a multi-day affair before it’s restored) but lately have been doing exactly what you did over the weekend: Turn off the computer, ignore Twitter (well, mostly), and just go enjoy a book or do something around the house that has been neglected.

    Today I’m scheduling blog posts for the rest of the week so my blog is essentially on auto-pilot. Tomorrow I’ll head to my favorite bookstore, pick up two pre-ordered books, head home and drag my lawn chair out of storage, make some lemonade, and enjoy that new book smell in the glorious sunshine. It will be my own mini vacation.

  4. Drew Goodman on

    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of a physical book as a place of refuge from the day to day, always linked, always on, always being expected to respond NOW, way of life we are creating for ourselves.

    I can also imagine a future when, reading with an ereader that is linked to the internet and has browsing capabilities, every word in that latest novel you just purchased is linked to something, somewhere. A dictionary, so you can get a definition? Another book, so you can compare and contrast content? A blog, so that we can read what someone else has to say about the book we already have in our hand? And Lord help us all, to advertisements for everything under the sun. That, for me, takes the fun and enjoyment out of the reading experience. If I find myself absorbed in a story, I don’t want to be yanked out by a link to an ad for the latest sale on t-shirts at a chain department store down the street!

  5. Kassia Krozser on

    I love those days off from the Internet. At first, I had to hie myself to Bora Bora to do it (no really — if you want to get away from it all, that’s the spot). It turned out that the world did not stop turning. Nor did it the next time I unplugged. It gets easier each time, though I admit I reconnect with a sense of relief (Ah, that’s better, I am once again overloaded with information).

  6. Paige on

    Have you heard about Digital Detox Week? http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/digitaldetox Adbusters usually gets a big eye-roll from me, but I do wish I could participate in something like this…unfortunately I have to work.

  7. Christina on

    Adam’s Rib – excellent movie.

    Like you, I’m a tech person but sometimes just need to get away. When I first moved to NY I decided there was too much to do and see, so I would not get cable or internet (much to the dislike of roommates). It forced me to find other ways to amuse myself when not at work. I also had the convenience of terrible phone service.

    Because of this, it trained my family and & friends to not expect immediate contact with me and to only worry if they didn’t hear from me for a few days.

    That was a few years ago and I still don’t have cable or internet and turn my phone off if I feel I’m using it too much to check-in. I’ve also found waking up early to be great. A few weekends ago I headed over to the Brooklyn Museum of Art and sat under some blooming trees at 7am. My poor book was neglected – but not by internet – by birds and breezes in teh trees. It’s amazing how peaceful the city can be before 9am!

  8. Marcelo Teson on

    Interesting post – I found it on Stackedblog.com.

    I’m not sure I understand your thesis. Are you arguing that physical books will always be needed vs. ebooks and ereaders or are you arguing that book reading in the general sense will always be needed over the interconnected Internet world? If it’s the second it shouldn’t matter whether you’re reading your book in a paper codex or on a Kindle.

    Either way I think your post is only specific to one type of book usage and one type of reading – solitary reading for pleasure. It doesn’t really address the printed book’s fundamental advantages in versatility, durability, design, and ease of use compared to the electronic medium. People will always have a use for words on a piece of paper – their lack of a digital watermark or trail makes them great for people communicating in secret, they’re far more durable for good record keeping, They can take the occasional rip, while computers are comparatively much more fragile. They’re far more difficult to alter if someone wants to falsify said records, etc. Books are also conducive to a certain type of learning that really works with some people, and they are crazy cheap to buy and really easy to make compared to hardware like a computer or an iPhone or a Kindle.

    Mind you, I don’t disagree with the original premise. Books are a GREAT way to get away, turning the Internet off every now and then is a good idea. But I think you’re overlooking a key element of books that makes them so durable – they’re modular. You can literally read them anywhere, in any way, order, method, etc and do anything you want with them. Ebooks and ereaders and the Internet can do great things with reading material (for example, the websites with annotated online copies of books like Ulysses that let you use the nonlinear Internet to crossapply information in interesting ways), but the fundamental concept of the paper codex has a place here too, and not just to get away from it all. Books can be part of the connected world as well. We all thought the Internet was going to kill television, now they’re feeding off each other and supporting each other’s industries instead. As the sphere grows all these different media aren’t converging, they’re diverging and interlinking. There’s a place there for paper books.

    Personally, the future I would like to see is one where bookshops have a library of ebooks on a computer in addition to their regular stacks, and that for 2 bucks you can print out a generic codex version of an ebook on demand – maybe you get no cover art, maybe it’s on craptastic paper, but it’s a book that’s completely disposable and recyclable. You read it, toss it in a bin when you’re done, and the material gets made into someone else’s book later on. If you want something more permanent because you’re a “crinkly musty smell of the pages” kind of person you can go to the next shelf and get the hardcover version.


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