Seeking shelter from a rush hour rainstorm the other day, I stopped by Borders Books to see if I could take advantage of the half off coupons that have recently flooded my email.
Last winter, the store closed its flagship Michigan Avenue Chicago location, and Borders—which filed for bankruptcy—will close all of its stores in the coming weeks.
As I collapsed my umbrella and stepped inside the store, I was swept into another storm, a "Going Out of Business" tornado of books, CDs, and DVDs strewn all over the premises, bold sale signs boasting marked down prices, shelves half empty, with no chance of ever being restocked, and customers crashing into one another, rummaging through titles for cheap deals.
It made me sad for the thousands of Borders employees who are losing their jobs, and also sad that bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur.
Ever since I was old enough to read, I remember wandering into my neighborhood bookstore and pacing the aisles, scanning the candy store of brightly colored book jackets to taste—biographies, the classics, coffee table books, recipe books, and new fiction.
I love the smell of a book, the feel of the rough, grainy pages on the pads of my fingers. I would sit, sometimes for hours, in a comfy chair, disappearing into the world on the page before choosing which book got to come home with me.
We Jews are "the people of the Book," which is a label used to describe our rootedness in the Torah, but in the popular vernacular, the term, too, has come to refer to the value of learning and literature to the Jewish people.
Will my future children ever set foot in a bookstore? For that matter, will my kids even read physical books, or will they just download their reading material on their Kindle or Nook. Will we morph from "the people of the Book" into"the people of the Nook?"
And it's not just books. Though I'm a 30-something, I'm sort of a grandmother in the technology realm. (But come to think of it, even my grandma is now on Facebook.)
I embrace technology only when necessary:
I upgraded to an iPod only after my retro, pre-historic Walkman died.
Last year, Blockbuster Video closed, forcing me to find movies online.
Only recently did I surrender and buy a Smartphone.
And just the other day, I found myself scanning my own items at the drugstore, which had eliminated its store clerks. "Will that be paper or plastic?" I asked myself.
One thing I won't give up on is my newspaper, delivered to my door each day. Every weekend, I set up camp in my neighborhood coffee house, poring over the Sunday paper, peering up from the gigantic pages every now and then for some good people watching, feeling pride as I finish each section, stacking them on a pile next to my hot cocoa as I go.
I don't dispute the convenience of shopping, reading, listening, and doing just about everything online. After all, without technology, I wouldn't be blogging these very thoughts.
But as bookstores, newspapers, video stores, and music shops disappear, we're losing some of the quirky, social experiences that come with human interaction in daily life.
We're missing out on something real.