Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stuff changes; and we are morons

     I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A FAN of libraries, but you’ve got to admit that the stature and love of Libraries is seriously bolstered with bullshit. –You know, like most things.
     “Books are wonderful.” –Well, no, most of ‘em are shit. Lots of ‘em are indeed wonderful, of course. But let’s not overdo it. Like we always do.
     “Libraries are full of wonderful books.” –Well, in my experience, public libraries seem pretty indiscriminate, book-selection-wise (and otherwise). At the local library, seriously shitty or mediocre books sandwich the occasionally excellent ones. Libraries are like the internet or a mall bookstore: point anywhere, and one is more likely to spot chaff than wheat.
     “Physical books are important. Libraries keep that tradition alive.” –Well, physical books do seem to be important to geezers, but not to most of the kids in college these days. If they read at all, typically they do that on the internet. Increasingly, to them, books are weird.
     And most of what they read is crap.
     “They’ve proven that FDR caused the Depression.”
     “Huh? That’s nonsense. Where’d you read that?”
     “It’s on the internet.”
     Physical books? You watch. Gizmos like Kindle are gonna replace physical books, and much else, bigime. The writing is on the wall–er, on the iPad. Already, I see students spotting a geezer like me with a book, and they immediately get that look they get when they encounter a Selectric. "WTF?"

     For oldsters and semi-oldsters, there’s a romance about books, and it is only enhanced by the tattered, musty, and worn quality of old specimens. One rescues such artifacts and then seeks to sit quietly in a cozy spot to just read, preferably while bespectacled and accompanied by a glass of good booze. 
     It's a quiet thing. It’s somewhat ritualistic. It’s a fine way of winding down and enjoying oneself, by oneself. And yet it is concordant with thought and the development of wisdom (or self-deception, natch).
     Books are great, but I’ve never really understood librarians. They exhibit an odd quietude and they look like refugees from activity-of-any-kind. If they love books, its very hard to see what good that does ‘em. What are these people experts at? I have no idea. The Dewey Decimal System?
     How come college libraries are still full of physical books (and VHS tapes)? I don’t get it. Aren’t these things available digitally and online somehow? Nowadays, for better or worse, the younger generation is almost exclusively online. It’s their default position (along with indifference). And books and magazines and references are often now available — you guessed it — online.
     Seems like a no-brainer to me.

     Plus online connections are cheaper than buying and displaying physical books. Way cheaper.
     So what’s with all the goddam books? I say: start selling ‘em. Get ‘em into the hands of fading geezers while they can still read and hold stuff up to their faces. In thirty or forty years, it’ll all be over, like family dinners and attention spans.
     There’s a funny piece in yesterday’s New York Times about changes in the ambiance of libraries. Check it out:

Complaint Box: The Lost ‘Library Voice’ (by Sung J. Woo; excerpts)
   The library of my youth…was a tomb of peace, where the only sounds were shuffles, whispers and the occasional shush — delivered with an index finger crossing the lips of a bespectacled, cardigan-wearing librarian.
   These days, at my local branch…, I have to play an MP3 file in a loop — a sound bite of a hair dryer blasting between my ears — because without the white noise, I would not be able to think straight.
   …When did libraries become a cacophonous combination of cafe, video store, music store, computer lab and playground?
   Twenty years ago, I was able to research my high school term papers in silence, but now the communal desks have been transformed into an open forum for children and adults to chat away as if they were hanging out at Starbucks.
   Back in the day, there was such a thing as your “library voice”…. Not anymore. When fellow patrons walk through the doors and make a beeline for the DVD section, when they are clacking the discs’ plastic cases and lecturing on the savvy beauty of “Mad Men”…, I can hear their every word across the room.

     One of the bigger libraries near me has a listening station for CDs, and the other day, two teenage girls sat down, clamped on headphones and proceeded to talk to each other while enjoying their music. Have you ever tried conversing with someone wearing Princess Leia-like headphones? You have to shout. Which is also what kids do when they log on the public computers to watch their favorite YouTube videos while opening up 15 windows of Instant Messenger. They may be quietly typing “LOL,” but they are also literally laughing out loud.
     Meanwhile, tykes are burning up the carpet. I cannot remember the last time I went to my library when children were not playing hide-and-seek in the stacks, shrieking as they chased one another. The parents are usually nowhere to be seen, maybe playing a little hide-and-seek from their offspring. If this were story hour, I could understand, but it seems as if every minute of every day is now playtime.
     Even librarians seem to be getting into the act, talking on the telephone as if sitting in a living room, letting everyone know that the plumber is arriving during lunch…. At one point I had to turn up the dial of my hair dryer symphony to 11 because two librarians were discussing the location of a particular audio book — while standing at the opposite ends of the room….
     We oldsters need to face reality. "The book is dead; long live the book." We’ve got to face the music and get with the program.
     On the other hand, in some ways, the new program stinks. There was something very good about physical books and the way we were with 'em. And there’s something bad about kids (or anybody) staring at a computer screen all day, comfortable with flash and ephemera and uncomfortable with thought or the notion that one is responsible for helping to fix the world. (Have you noticed that displays of torture are now simply a form of entertainment? God, we're idiots.)
     You see, the fundamental wisdom of conservatism is this: we have a way of being and doing, and we know that some of that “way” is good and valuable — and easily lost.
     So we should try carefully to preserve it. We shouldn’t let the entire younger generation run like hell after baubles and prodigies of unknown merit. Who knows what gems will be lost and what folly created?
     Go forward, into the future. But slowly, carefully.
     But no. We are morons.

The Kinks (1963 -   )

We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and variety
We are the Desperate Dan appreciation society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?

We are the draught beer preservation society
God save Mrs. Mopp and good old Mother Riley
We are the custard pie appreciation consortium
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them

We are the Sherlock Holmes English speaking vernacular
Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the office block persecution affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity

We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliate
God save Tudor houses, antique tables and billiards

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?

God save the village green....

The Modern Lovers (1970-1973)

My telephone never rings

She'd never call me

I hate myself today

But I can see through this bitterness and sadness

And so I won't die

Someday I think I'll be dignified and old

Well my friends say that I deceive myself

And that I contradict myself

And I can't say if they're right

But I'm not ashamed

Oh I can take a challenge

And so I won't die

Someday I'll be dignified and old

I know it

And I say hey kids 
(Hey kids)

I said hey kids 
(Hey kids)

I say someday we'll be dignified and old

That's right

I said some day we'll be dignified 
(Hey kids, Hey kids)

Someday we'll be dignified 
(Hey kids, Hey kids)

Someday we could be dignified and old together

Well now

Look at the mountain

My girl and I used to stand on the mountain

And the sun shines, she's dead, and I cry

But I can see through this death and the sadness

And so I won't die now

Someday I wanna be dignified and old

Well now, see the desert

I sit all alone in the desert

And no girl understands me

But I can see through this bleakness and grey and sadness

And well I won't die now

Someday I'll be dignified and old

I say, you, don't die now

Someday we'll be dignified and old together