Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Keeping Without Keeping

It sometimes seems like all that is new is bad and all that is old is good. Was good? Back in the good old days, everything was better. All these newfangled contraptions isolate us from each other and separate us from the ski-doos and cars that we ride around in by ourselves and call-waiting and big color TVs.

Actually, I don't feel that way. As you can perhaps tell from the weak examples, I find a lot of modern technology to be life-enhancing and often greatly improved over whatever the less-modern technology was. Like caller-ID. So many people were outraged by the idea of their identity being revealed to the person who's life they are intruding upon when they call (because, hello, that's what it is). When someone knocks on your door, you have a right to peek through your door and see if it is someone you want to receive or not. You don't have to accept a communication from someone who won't identify themselves. Adding caller-ID to the technology of the telephone corrects a long-standing deficiency in phone service. Being anonymous has its place, but not in person-to-person communication.

Answering machines and voice mail too, I've got a jolly spiel about the advantages of those. And yes, there are disadvantages. This is an important concept. I'm not sure if it's simply physics, or metaphysics, but "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" is one of the few things in life to which the word "always" really does apply. For every positive, there is a negative. For every negative, vice versa. This, if we went into it, would be a mighty big topic. In some ways, we're never not on this topic, no matter what we think we're talking about. And for now we'll go on thinking we're talking about something else.

I think I'm talking about bits and bytes vs. atoms and molecules. Instead of real physical books (let's use books as the example, because it suits me) I have a digital record of books. Years ago, my husband and I realized that a good portion of our salaries was going toward housing our overflowing bookshelves. We love our books, and they make fine insulation, lining the walls of our house as they did, but did we really want to spend thousands of dollars so that we could afford a large enough house to live with them? No. Another of the great joys of having books is sharing books. We decided to make the joy of sharing books our priority instead of the joy of having them on our shelves (collecting dust and housing bugs -- let's face it, with hundreds of books, you just don't take them down and fondle them that often.)

The downside of sharing is that once they are gone, they are gone. Unless you are keeping records of your reading you have to count on your memory of your books. And unless a topic comes up between you and a friend that relates to a book you've read and remember, that you've read a book in common may never be known. With shelves physically full of books, a visitor can be idly glancing around, awkwardly trying to think of something to say, spot a familiar book, and voila, a worthy conversation launches.

But now, we can give away our books, and still have them conveniently displayed for visitors. Not to our home, but to our Shelfari web pages. Which means folks don't even need to waste the gas to drive to your house. They can just browse to and search for your name, and then peruse your books. Depending on your attention to detail and your patience (and perhaps the speed of your Internet connection) you can have your books clearly and cleanly on your shelves, make notes about your likes and dislikes, and sort them according to what's to be read, what's a favorite, and so on. You can also readily see who else has the same books you have, and what they think of those books. Then you can see what other books they have and, hmm, you might like those too, and you're making review comments and adding books to your to-be-read list before you know it.

It's fun. And bytes don't get dusty.


danny said...

I joined Shelfari a couple months ago. What a great site! Add me as a friend!


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