Books

The new toy syndrome

The future of all our toys?

Is there reason to feel a slight elevation in one’s hope for the future of the book? (In spite of Borders being on the verge of bankruptcy.) Is a real book still the best way to read real writing? Will electronic reading fade to background noise and stop being noticed? Is the recent explosion in sales of e-reading devices only emblematic of the new toy syndrome, and are they destined to go the way of VCR and 8-track tapes?

I don’t know. My Sage license is expired and I’m not allowed to make Sage predictions until it’s renewed.

These questions arose today because I was thinking about blogging and blogs, wondering if blogging is just the next new toy?

I have been a blogger (this one and a deceased previous one) for almost three years. I recently had a look at the cumulative statistics for this blog, and a graph of posts clearly depict the rise and fall pattern of my interest in it. But overall, that interest has declined steadily, and now, if I write anything at all, it is usually under duress … that is, guilt. Either there isn’t anything interesting enough to spend the time it takes to write about it, or I simply have better ways to spend my time.

Not just writing; also reading other blogs. Two years ago I followed regularly (checked by looking at my Google follow list) nearly thirty blogs. A year later it was eighteen. Now it is about ten, and two of those exist to review food, cafes, and restaurants in Buenos Aires, where I live. Of that number, half are rarely updated; although a year ago those blogs were active, with at least weekly updates. Of the blogs I still cling to, Nicole mostly just puts up links to other sites, Rose is on hiatus entirely, Court apparently has a life, Brad focuses all his energy on his creative work and finding a home for his novel, Ken abandoned blogging entirely … .

I used to have a look at Huffington Post everyday, using it as a news and features consolidator for stories most likely to interest me (although if I want more depth, I use the NY Times, CNN, and BBC), but over time I became tired of the sameness of a site like Huffington, and its phenomenal growth has killed its usefulness, beyond glancing over headlines to see if there’s something you want to read elsewhere. Once a post on a site gets thousands and thousands of comments, which are so slowly moderated as to be of no value at all, not even as entertainment, there’s no point in wasting time going there.

The older I get, the more clear it becomes that we live our lives in cycles and circles, and the things of our lives are like new Christmas toys in the hands of five-year-olds: the explosion of excitement hardly containable, the figuring out how the thing works, showing off with it to your pals, playing with it in ever more imaginative ways, then breaking it, then losing it … and it ends up in the historical trash heap of all broken  and abandoned toys. Then something newer next Christmas.

I find it interesting that many readers, probably most serious readers, keep their books, even after they are read and maybe re-read. What is the value of bound pages with print after the words are read? Why do we keep books, put them on special shelves, often take one just to hold it, or thumb through those familiar and comfortable pages? Is it a satisfying feeling to put your Kindle, with its hundreds of”books” in the one flat little box, on a shelf and have it comfort you the way a wall of books can?

Eventually we will outgrow these new toys. Books will always be treasures for people who read.

Marilyn and friend

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10 replies »

  1. There’s a difference between entirely and permanently. But it makes the point, more or less. I think people who started blogging a while back and have been at it for some years are burning out, but are being replaced by new bloggers for whom it is still a toy as bright as a new trombone.

    In my case, I seem to be doing more travelogue writing, with lots of photos, and virtually none of the literary writing I did for a long time.

    On the other hand, it remains the best way I have to maintain a regular contact with my few cyberspace acquaintances.

    I hope you will still be in Mexico after mid-2012.

  2. I don’t know if I have what you’d call a “life,” exactly, although I do derive inordinate amounts of pleasure from entertaining our 3-month old. Who has passed through (knock, knock goes the wood) a colicky phase and thus become a hell of a lot more fun.

    I just can rarely summon up the energy to make very many meaningful blog posts. I put my writing energy into, well, writing, these days.

    I hope this post doesn’t signal an imminent farewell from the interwebs. At least hang on until we’re neighbors, if Boulder is to be the ultimate destination.

    • I figured parenthood is a major preoccupation. I vaguely remember when … although now I have grandchildren to remind me.

      I don’t intend to say farewell to this blog or blogging, but to change how I think of it. Instead of the new toy, it’s more like something I’ve worn out, but leave on the shelf for times when the next new toy gets old and this looks interesting again.

      Like Rose wrote, I’ll probably put up more photos and foreign titbits.

      Meanwhile, only 28 more pages to type and my first novel is ready for e-book land. (After my wife proofs it,)

  3. Books will persist the same way that vinyl records persist–or hopefully with better distribution than that small niche. At any rate, people still read. In fact, I think they read more than ever, but they read in smaller bits on small screens while moving about or huddled behind a glowing monitor pretending to work. The decline of the novel doesn’t necessarily diminish the presence of words in our lives. After all, the novel is only a form and forms wax and wane.

    Well, let me amend my statement. Stories will persist. That’s what always lives anyway and we consume our stories through an expanding number of avenues. The lament about the demise of publishing is a lament about the loss of possible income, not the loss of an entire aspect of human consciousness.

    But of course today is a sunny Wednesday and the air is keen. Thursdays are the day for bemoaning and we wail on Friday, if the urge arrests.

    • You’re right about the loss of income. But there’s something else, too: intellectual decor. Rooms without books look sterile and lifeless to me (I guess that’s redundant). I cannot help but be suspicious of the creative and artistic inclinations of people who live in places without books around. Piles of well-thumbed magazines are a nice addition. I am never able to relax and feel a comfortable companionability when visiting people in a house without books. A Kindle laying on the table doesn’t quite do it.

        • Same, Brad. My hackles go up in houses without books.

          Although I’ll also say that with the advent of a Kindle, the price of real estate on my own bookshelves has gone way, way down.

          However, I’d also say that at least half of my Kindlebooks I got for free and would never have bought in paper form, so maybe it hasn’t made all that much difference … although, to run another permutation, maybe if I hadn’t had all those free Kindlebooks, I’d have bought more real ones.

  4. I don’t know whether to be amused or sad not to even warrant a mention and yet I’m not unduly surprised. Life/responsibilities have taken over of late despite many attempts to escape to a more happy medium only to find I really don’t have anything worthy to say.
    I will always be glad to have virtually met all of you but nothing lasts forever apart from books…there will always be books.