Each time I pass a bookshop, especially the second-hand variety, I feel I ought to go in. Not because I want a book but because I’ve convinced myself that this treasured resource is about to be wiped from the earth. So in I go – or try to. I can’t get past the heaving crush of people like me making a final mercy-dash to the stricken victim. Such is the demand for books that Oxfam has had to demerge its branches into two varieties – the books-only Oxfam and the books-and-dead-people’s-clothes Oxfam.
Bookshops are thriving, precisely because of the web. The internet is a pocket memento mori. Life is too brief, it reminds us, to spend all our time on-line. Get out there! Meanwhile the resurgent bookshops are busy upgrading themselves. They have sofas, mango juice, fresh coffee, jazz nights, aerobics, poetry readings, speeding-dating, foxy Danish students working the till. If you look hard enough you may even find some books.
In the 1970s, when I was a kid, we took it for granted that within two decades or so the landline would have evolved into the wrist-watch video-phone as used by the chaps on Thunderbirds. Doubtless that technology has been created by now but it’s going nowhere. The good old audio-phone is what we want. Its combination of concealment and disclosure is perfect. It enables the caller to present himself exactly as he chooses. I can be unshaven, hungover, coked-up, and in bed with a rent-boy and I can call the Dalai Lama to discuss progressive ecumenicalism and he will never know my true circumstances. Likewise I will never know that he too is unshaven, hungover, coked-up and in bed with a rent-boy. The telephone is the dissembler’s instrument of choice. It’s here to stay.
Green campaigners on jets
There’s really no need for eco-lobbyists to get on the plane in order to tell us to get off the plane. Spreading the panic on-line is easier, cheaper and quicker. It would satisfy moral logic too and make it harder for anyone to complain that greens don’t practise what they preach, they just preach. So, any chance of the planet-savers grounding themselves and confining their crusade to the keyboard? Nope. Flying’s not just about convenience. Soaring into the stratosphere on a trans-Atlantic trajectory boosts the ego tremendously, it makes one feel potent, magnificent and world-conquering. That’s what the greens want.
The sheer volume of false, inaccurate and paranoid opinions swarming across the internet has fostered a desire for the exact opposite – informed views exchanged in a rational atmosphere. Mind you, the best place to find live debates is on the internet. It has its uses.
Still here and still doing OK. Most of them anyway. The long-awaited death of Fleet Street has been postponed for all kinds of peculiar small-scale reasons. We need a physical relationship with our newsprint. We need to fold and smooth, we need to squint from odd angles. Sometimes we need to snack as we take our morning news-hit. I can eat Cheesy Wotsits while reading the Indie but if I eat Cheesy Wotsits while surfing the net my keys get covered in gunk. It’s horrible. And I sometimes read the paper while watching TV, (the local news, perhaps, or during the fag-end of Match of the Day while the bottom-rung Premiership games are being shown), but surfing while watching telly? I’d never do that. And think of the Sunday papers. The internet will never replicate the unique social and cultural utility of a Sunday rag, with its myriad chunky ‘sections’, spreading and sprawling across the rooms of a country-house during a rainy weekend.