I have a love/hate relationship with technology.
On the one hand, I love being able to find virtually any book online, no matter how long out-of-print, how old or esoteric. I can buy a book with a few mouse-clicks and have those lovely pages delivered to the far corners of the world within a day or two, bubble-wrapped by online elves. Or downloaded to my tablet. It’s magical.
But then I hate happily strolling down Main Street Anywhere and seeing a beloved bookstore with a GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign in the window. It’s like waking up with an online hangover where you’re forced to address the stranger in your bed and reconcile the breathless, heat-of-the-moment promises you made the night before in the name of convenience, 30% off, and free shipping.
As the philosopher Slash (of Guns N’ Roses) once said: “Whatever you send out into the world comes back to you in one way or another. It may be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but it happens; usually when you least expect it, usually in a form that’s pretty different from the original.” I hate to say it, but a tattooed drunk guy probably never spoke truer words, with the guitar and a funny hat.
I call it online karma. With each click of the mouse, each brief, touch-screen moment, we’re turning the pages of an economic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book; where the ending is up to you, so choose wisely, my friend.
(I interrupt this blog post with a brief, personal rant).
Technology-wise, I love that, as a writer, my voice can be heard, read, consumed, sampled, rejected, and even criticized in a number of digital platforms. Getting books into the hands of readers has never been more inventive. And I personally sell nearly half of my novels as eBooks, and so I owe a debt of gratitude to certain online retailers for creating these digital pathways.
But, I don’t owe them my silence. Which is why I hate how often my fellow writers censor themselves for fear of treading on the toes of billion dollar corporations. Too many of us look the other way or stand mute and watch the digital deforestation of the literary world. We’re writers! We write to be heard. We’re citizens of the Republic of Letters. If we don’t speak of social, economic, cultural injustice…who will? Screw royalties. I’d rather be paid in posterity points.
(Okay, rant over, where was I? Oh yes, online karma).
And so with that, let me say we need more bookstores and libraries. They’re tactile. They’re immersive. They’re humane. They’ve always been trendy. But more than that, they are staffed by dedicated booklovers who curate collections of actual books, and books are the written record of the human condition. So buy online, but also buy local when you can—that way you’re supporting a healthy literary ecosystem.
After all, I met my wife at the public library and proposed in a bookstore. And you can’t do that on a Kindle. (Though I’m sure someone is working on it).
Jamie Ford’s second novel, Songs of Willow Frost, is out now in paperback and ebook and available to purchase from hive here
You can follow Jamie on Twitter here