Once Books are Gone What Will Our Vanity Object Be?


One interesting repercussion of the advent of the e-reader may well be the disappearance of the bookshelf. Before you scoff and say never just remember how resistant I/we were to putting our CDs and vinyl away. But away they have been put, and the solitary ipod is now the norm.

So if e-readers become more ubiquitous – and I think the jury is still out on that – will the bookshelf go too? And if the bookshelf does go, what will replace it as the vanity object in our homes?

Because, let’s be honest, the beautifully arranged rows of books are not about function or ease of reach. They are a shortcut, a quick sketch of our identity that we put on display for visitors. And very useful it is too. When I go to someone’s house my eyes are immediately drawn to their books, if they have any. (If they don’t I walk out and defriend them. JOKE) A quick scan of the shelves can tell us a lot about someone, or at least give us an opening into some more rich conversation.

So if our music collection has gone, and our books follow, what will we put up instead? I have no desire for a screen to do this job. And I can think of nothing worse than a pure unadorned room with no objects of interest in it. Nor do I feel able to tell much about people from their ornaments, though this may have to change.

Perhaps it will be a virtual shelf – a scrollable, changeable playlist of books and music and other cultural paraphernalia that we will literally use to ‘project’ something of ourselves. Of course, it will change with mood and according to friend type, pulling forward Dickens and Hardy when mum is around, or more edgy stuff when Nic comes calling. And thus my self will become less whole and more fragmented, as the guilty pleasures on my shelves that I never put away and allow all and sundry to see will get hidden.

[ HT Krystian – great interactive bookshelf shot on Flickr ]


7 responses to “Once Books are Gone What Will Our Vanity Object Be?”

  1. Dusty and eclectic as my bookshelf collection may be, I can’t imagine it’ll go before I die.
    My children, on the other hand, may well have to answer your question. And my guess is, they won’t mind a screen doing the job for them. And they won’t be selective about what they show. In the same way that I leave all my books (or at least most of them) out for public display, my kids won’t mind displaying whatever happens to be on the screen at the time. They may be selective about what gets “screensaver” status, but no more so (and perhaps less) than I am about which book goes on the living room shelf rather than the basement shelf. (Current case in point: a never-ending game of pong that distracts anyone in the vicinity, interrupting conversations mid-sentence. Inane and mesmerizing at the same time. Produces the same relational effects as a collection of Spanish novels.)

  2. I cannot imagine that books will go the way of cds and vinyls, but then again, we said that about cds. There is just something about the printed word that I’m just not willing to give up on. The ability to have and hold in your hand something as we read it, to highlight, make notes in the margins. I agree about the vanity object, as I too love to peruse others bookshelves. It does speak something about who we are, our interests and what not. Part of me fears for the lack of a paper trail with books, the inability to have hard copies of written documents. Just as in an election, the lack of a paper trail seems to allow room for “tweaking” or censoring without us even knowing. Perhaps I’m too cynical.

  3. The relational/discovery purpose of the bookshelf you describe has already been subsumed by our “social media” technologies, to the point where when we do get together IRL we don’t even have any new stories to share…we’ve scanned the virtual bookshelf of and already had all the potential conversations with our hosts. Instead of scanning their bookshelf while we half-listen to their latest mother-in-law saga, we look down onto our mobile devices to consume other, more interesting stories from our “social graph”. But is there really any difference?

    Perhaps what will really happen is we will long for truly unmediated space and time and come together to experience and think about things that cannot be mediated with our technologies, paper or silicon based.

  4. Oh, and I also had this recent observation after pulling a paperback off the shelf for reference — despite our fears of digital artifact deletion, given a decade’s worth of evidence in both digital and print, looks like the digital is going to outlast the print (given the cheap-ass paper and ink they use these days).

  5. I agree with Corinne.

  6. You might have caught my RT of this earlier, but this is interestingly relevant: http://blog.bandcamp.com/2010/01/25/music-as-artifact-introducing-bcwax/

  7. Familyman

    They make so much a statement they will never go. unless we all end up living in spaces to small to keep them.