A new phenomenon has arrived on street corners here and there in the United States and England. You may have seen small, sometimes cleverly decorated boxes, much like an old-fashioned postbox, with a sign offering “Free Books, take one or leave one.” When I first discovered these in England last summer, I was sincerely charmed. What a gracious, lovely idea, to freely share books among the populace. By now, however, I have realized a darker (more sinister?) side to this free book giveaway.
Perhaps it is obvious to some of you already, dear Readers, that one probable reason for all these free book giveaways is, there are simply millions of books floating around in the hemisphere, and not enough people reading them. Books are starting to enter the classification of relics, artifacts from a time fast disappearing, when people loved and enjoyed them, carried them around, re-read them, passed them on to family and friends.
The age of technology has its merits and its drawbacks. In an extraordinarily short span of human time, computers have entrenched themselves in our collective psyche like a virus infecting a body, deeply and somehow irreversibly. The powers-that-make-technology in our world are working hard to make sure that everyone alive is signed up on the plan. That means every man, woman and child, no matter how young or old, is to be inextricably hooked into the beast of technology forever more. They are pushing to make sure babies are weaned from the breast to the computer screen, that no hand goes without a computerized phone-internet-camera-toaster-oven-what-have-you device, and the list just goes on ad infinitum and ad nauseam.
The death of bound books is nearly inevitable in our lifetimes, I lament. Not only is it a sad commentary on the state of our society, but just a sad thought altogether. When all the written words are available only on virtual screens or in your eyeglasses or whatever, how will that affect us as a people; our thinking, our motor skills, our ideas about life? The implications are truly enormous if one ponders them. What will become of libraries, our esteemed repository of the worlds’ wisdom, literature and knowledge? What will become of us?
The digital age we find ourselves in today has vast implications for our world. One of the most maddening is the inevitable loss of sensory perception and basic motor skills. Young children who most need to develop these skills as their bodies are growing and changing the most are at risk of not learning them, and that affects their brain development and basically their whole physiognomy. Using a keyboard or touch screen does not do the same job for developing bodies and minds as making sure a child can pick up a pencil or scissors and use them effectively. I shudder to think of how tomorrow’s children will manage in the physical world of which they are still a part. What will humans do when they have lost the ability to use their hands, their fingers, their bodies?
The world is changing so fast right now, society itself is spinning ever faster on its axis. I am watching it happen, even as I am turning into a relic of the past, along with bound books and dead philosophers. I admit that I do not wish to live in a world without books, sensory stimulus, physicality. I was born into physicality and I will remain within it for the rest of this lifetime. Probably I sound hideously old-fashioned, like those parents who frowned disapprovingly upon early rock and roll music and its proponents. And yet. This new technology age is profoundly disturbing. It seems we have been sold a bill of goods, yet what have we really purchased– if not the death of our souls?