It's not the review of the Kindle in David's post that caught my eye, it's the reaction he heard: "Everyone joined in: 'On the subway, I can't see what other commuters are reading!'" Now, take that beyond books to records and CDs and DVDs and magazines and newspapers. It's a shift not lost on James Wolcott, of Vanity Fair:
Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities.
Record collections used to reflect a young man's curatorial odyssey to impose order, hierarchy, and permanence on his most cherished grooves, and to one-up his fellow pack rats. (Female music fans don't seem to be anywhere near so obsessive-completist.) To have Public Image Ltd.'s Metal Box in its original container was to have your punk cred validated. Fabulous rarities retrieved from the discount bins earned one membership in an elite breed of forager, akin to those flea-market falcons who can swoop in and snap up the holy grail from under a pile of old Nixon buttons.
Damon Darlin picked up the theme in Sunday's New York Times:
We've lost something as well: the fortunate discovery of something we never knew we wanted to find. In other words, the digital age is stamping out serendipity. When we walk into other people's houses, we peruse their bookshelves, look at their CD cases and sneak a peek at their video collections (better that than their medicine cabinets). It gives us a measure of the owner's quirky tastes and, more often than not, we find a singer, a musician or a documentary we'd never known before.
With the record albums and hard-cover books and movie posters gone, we need to find new ways to express ourselves. Wolcott ends his piece with this thought:
I suspect that once this downturn plateaus and shrinks in the rearview mirror, we'll just stock up on other possessions, which will be arrayed and arranged to show off not our personal aesthetics or expensive whims but our ethics-our progressive virtues. A place where we could play host to Barack and Michelle and feel assured they'd find nothing amiss.