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That’s Too Mainstream

How independent bookstores save us from our reliance on technology

by Katy Littlejohn

Whilst being shuffled and pushed through the crowd while changing trains at Yonge/Bloor station on my way home to the Danforth, my eye caught a smear of pink. Turning my head just in time to see a beautiful hardcover book perched atop a pay phone, my first reaction was to bully my way over to it and snatch it up. My second reaction was a little voice inside my head telling me to not touch anything in the subway. The latter won. The beautiful book would have to wait there without me.

All of this got me to thinking about how fast life can get—so much so that there never seems to be time for a book anymore. Even in bookstores, especially Indigo/Chapters, the books come secondary to the Kobo displays and home décor section. Technology, though not a bad thing per se, plays such a huge part in our day to day lives to the point where it replaces the things that have been just fine the way they were. The immediacy of today’s communication technology is the pinnacle of efficiency, but how much of it exceeds filling a need by tempting consumers with extra flare that we just don’t need? Instead of offering a solution to our problems it has become the status symbol that everyone craves.

Stacey Philipp, Toronto, 2011.

What happens to all of the words we don’t use when we use text messaging or BBM to communicate? Not only do we lose the opportunity to write thoughtfully in our high-speed lives, but also we seem to have lost the ability to read it. Our attention spans have downsized tremendously: who has time or energy for a book?
Back in the day, it could take months for someone in North America to contact someone in Europe, whereas now the connection is instant. But what do we lose with that immediacy? How did we pay for it?

We don’t write letters anymore. There used to be pages and pages dedicated to one letter all designed to be read as carefully as they were written. This might have a lot to do with why writers were such stars in the centuries preceding the digital revolution. The value of the written word was as big back then (for those who could afford education) as the value of a smartphone now (for those who can afford smartphones). Ironically, where we once paid to learn how to read and write, we now pay to avoid it.

Is technology trying to make amends for its destruction of the written word? Kindles and Kobos could be the saving grace of books, drawing tech-hungry consumers to snatch up the latest gadgets they can show off to their friends, or these e-readers could just be the literary antichrist, causing us to be so screen-dependent that real life doesn’t exist in something as simple as two covers sandwiching a collection of pages. Are books dying?

Here’s the glimmer of hope. Go to Book City or Re:Reading, both beautiful book stores on the Danforth, and both believers in the written word, and seek you the e-reader? Not there yet? Phew. What you will find, for those of you who are puzzled as to what could possibly fill their shelves—if not boxed technology, photo albums, and designer teas and travel mugs—are books. Good old, self-sufficient books.


  • Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

    This is a timely article in a fast-paced society that has been vastly shot through a technology pipeline. Mind you, I wouldn’t be able to access this article or respond to it as quickly as I have if it weren’t for the ever-so beloved Internet.

    That said, I am still one of the few who prefer the tactile experience of reading a book, the fresh smell of its clean pages, the cover design as tempting as its content. There’s still something in curling up in your fuzzy slippers under lamp light and snuggling beneath a cozy blanket with a good book. I don’t know if I could say I would have quite the same enjoyable experience with an e-reader.

    Sure, you can carry thousands of books in your backpack, but would you be able to read all of them in one sitting anyway? Not me. I prefer to savour my stories. I’m not necessarily a literary polygamist. One book at a time for me is all I need.

    As for the rest, it is not a dying art. I am an avid reader as much as I am a savvy “penpaller,” and happily discovered a network of pen-friends (ironically on InterPals) who still believe in sitting down and penning a letter from abroad. And because of technology, this art has become even more special and authentic. There’s a big difference between receiving a mass email that was sent also to 30 other :CC recipients than there is in receiving paper stationery with hardcopy photo and sometimes a postcard or bookmark!

    There is still hope for us yet, should we fight hard to preserve the best of our past and caution ourselves against moving too fast into our future.

    Visiting Indie bookstores and buying hardcopy books are a great start…or at least a continuation.

    My original copy of “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White that I bought as a child at my school book fair is still far more beloved than its e-reader digital counterpart.

    Thanks for the article.

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