About to sit down to dinner tonight, OPB startled us. "Powell's Books will lay off 31 employees." According to the Portland Business Journal, Emily Powell, daughter of the founder, informed workers earlier today in a memo:
“We see this as a clear indication that we are losing sales to electronic books and reading devices.... “Given the company’s declining sales, combined with industry data on the rapid growth of electronic book sales, we expect to see continuing erosion of new book sales over the next few years. While we believe we can compensate for some of the loss with solid used book sales and growth in gift sales, the erosion of new book sales will continue to take its toll.”
An old memory from my life in Albuquerque. I was writing copy for an ad agency in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A man in the art department invited me and my then-spouse to dinner. The moment he opened the door, I noticed all the white walls were bare. Nothing on them, nothing hung in the room where we ate dinner nor any of the other rooms. How peculiar it seemed that someone who worked with images, colors would only have blank walls. Maybe he was avoiding distraction?
Rooms with no books flashed through my consciousness, in color of course. How awful. They are our old friends, returned to for remembrance...book shelves are decoration in our homes not to be replaced by potted plants.
Wanting to be very loving toward my own recent purchases from Powell's along with abebooks (used ones), I arranged them for you to admire, ask me about. How I'd like to talk with Sherry Turkle, whose new book is "Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other." She spoke at Powell's on Burnside last month about how her research has shifted her earlier enthusiasm about the the digital age, expressed in earlier books, to concern about the degrading of relationships through electronic exchange, the cellphone, and the growing acceptance of robots to replace personal interactions.
The rapid growth of electronic reading being privileged over handheld books feels like one more way we have found to be less intimate not only with others but also with our surroundings. She worries, as a clinical psychologist, how Facebook, texting, blogs too are leading people to a preference for technological interactions over those in realtime. The disappearance of THE BOOK feels like another line in her argument though not discussed in "Alone Together." That's why I'd like to talk with her; perhaps I'll use the email address at MIT that she gave her listeners that January night.
And I'll mention one area I see very differently as an older person. She has a dark view of the interaction of robots and old people. Given who I see may be my caretakers in the future, those unengaged young people constantly on their screens, I am more open than Sherry to being cared for by androids in my dotage. Picture this: it is 2031, Sylvia, my gracious robot, enters my room. I point to one of my beautifully illustrated 19th century books on temperance. She reads in a pleasing, even voice (absent "like"), shows me the pictures when I ask.