I see quite often in the media comments like this “no one reads books anymore”. And I see comments to the effect that we are “overloaded with data”. But how true are these statements?
It is true that the internet has provided us with an eruption of content. It is everywhere. But is that content satisfying? for me, by and large, the answer is “no”. Most of what I read on the internet is functional. It informs me. So I can make a better cake, for example. And I can find out where Bora Bora is. But it does not stimulate my imagination. And that is a problem. As Jonathan Franzen writes
It is doubtful whether anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
Or perhaps good anything else! To find food for my imagination, I have become more focused on my books than ever. I need them and I read more books — not less — than I used to. And while I am overloaded with data, I easily tune it out. I tune in what excites me. So it is no huge surprise that contrary to all predictions, books are not antiquated and the bricks and mortar bookstore is not dead. As Sarah McNally demonstrates in New York, people still need and want books and they still need and want places to find the ones that they will buy. To the point, they need more than digital space of the type that Amazon provides.
This is an interesting lesson for book retailers and perhaps retailers in general (as I read that the retail sector is not doing very well these days). It is also an interesting lesson for how the real world and the digital world move in parallel fashion over time. As the internet develops, so too will our real world spaces. Not to compete with what the internet provides, but to do things that only can be done in real space. Like just being there, in an environment that is enriching Like in Sarah’s bookstore.
Here we might refresh our memory of Plato’s admonition – that all things are full of the gods. In other words, we find inspiration in the real world. We communicate via abstractions (symbols) which are one step back from reality. But our inspiration starts from what is or was here.