I was actually channel-surfing the other night (how old school!) and I came upon a Seinfeld repeat. Even when there is new entertainment to take in over the airwaves, most of it can’t compete with a Seinfeld repeat. So I started watching and I was struck by a very prescient line of dialogue.
In this episode, George breaks up with a girlfriend but leaves some of his books at her house. He asks Jerry to retrieve the books for him because he can’t bear the awkwardness of seeing his ex again. Jerry resists, and asks George, “What is this obsession with books? Why do you need to keep them after you’ve read them?” George doesn’t really have an answer to this, except to say that they are his books and he wants to keep them.
This episode was from 1991 and it reminded me of a discussion I had in one of my MCDM (grad school) classes in 2010. We seem to be programmed to collect and keep stuff, such as books and DVDs and CDs. The question was posed to the class that if we have constant access to the things we like through streaming services like Netflix, is there really a need to own them? A lot of the class, I recall, thought yes, they would still want to own those things. When further pressed as to why, the best answer anyone could really come up with was, “because they are mine.”
I fully admit to being in the “needing to own things” camp but I also admit that I’m now wavering. While I’m pretty attached to my CDs and I still find them functional (I listen to them downstairs when cooking or cleaning, but never upstairs when I’m at my computer, which has all the same information), I think I could happily chuck the DVDs if everything was on Netflix Watch Instantly.
However the thing that has been plaguing me recently is books. Books take up a LOT of space. We definitely have space in this house but we don’t have a lot of book space. No built-in shelves or anything like that. And e-readers are pretty affordable these days, hold way more books than our house ever could and don’t take away from any design elements. Just one small little handheld device that can be stored in a nightstand drawer. But is this really the way to read books? People who have them sure seem to like them. I just don’t know, I feel awfully attached to page-turning. Sometimes books smell good. I think there is a visceral experience to reading that might be lost on an electronic device. But I’ve never actually tried an e-reader and there are lots of books that I would like access to – old textbooks, software manuals, reference books – but that I don’t want to look at everyday (and let’s be honest, probably won’t access ever again either.)
I think we’ll get to the point where we pay for access instead of paying for product. And whatever sentimental attachment I have to the physicality of books will vanish. But stay the hell away from my CD collection.