The Death of Bookstores

Do you hear that distant knelling?  Book lovers around the world are ringing bells and mourning their losses.  The era of the bookstore is dying, my friends.  With customers converting to Kindle and Nook, and sales plummeting, Barnes and Noble announced a plan to close 190-240 of their stores. 

First, Technology set her sites on newspapers; and now she means to annihilate bookstores.  As a former newspaper reporter and a lifetime book lover, this news fills me with great sadness.  The days of walking into spacious, neatly organized bookstores - or even small, independent nooks (pun, recognized but not intended) - are fading away like a dollop of whipped cream in a Starbucks mocha. 

At the risk of sounding Orwellian, I fear we are headed into bleak times.  I try to imagine a world without newspapers, bookstores, and greeting cards (I am sorry, but ecards are just not the same), and it fills me with dread.  It feels as if Technology has cast a spell upon us, transformed us into mindless button pushing drones, trudging down a path toward complete disconnectedness.

We read our news online.  We buy and read our books online.  We meet our best friends, lovers, mates online.  We send electronic sympathy cards online (Seriously, this has got to be the worst)

Am I the only one who sees what is happening here?  Soon, we will spend most of our lives in our homes, chained to our keyboards/touch screens, rarely venturing beyond our electronic prisons.  We will forget how to socialize in meaningful ways (No, Facebook does not provide a forum for deep, meaningful connecting.  It is a fun social media that allows for posturing and superficial intercourse.  Pun intended).  We will forget how to show we care in real, measurable ways.  The days of sitting down to pen a heartfelt sentiment on a store bought card to send to a friend in need will seem like a fuzzy memory.  Instead, we will instinctively click "LIKE" on their status update and feel that was enough.

We will forget what it felt like to meet someone face to face (No, Facetime is not the same), to learn their myriad of little tics, to hear the lilt of their voice, to watch their gestures, to feel what it was like to be in the presence of someone we thought we might be beginning to love/hate/admire/fear. 

Soon, we will forget how to resolve conflicts.  How to look someone in the eye and say, "I am sorry."  Instead, we will simply visit their Facebook wall and click "Unfriend."  We will delete their numbers from our iphones, remove them from our e-card Christmas list.  We will feel righteous, hiding behind our computer screens.  "Who needs him/her anyway?  I have six new Friend Requests waiting."

Facebook is the root of evil.  Technology transforms.  It changes the way tasks are accomplished.  It changes the people working at those tasks.  Eventually, it changes the psychology of an entire society.  It changes long held habits. 

The Digital Age has given birth to a staggering number of inventions that have transformed how we work, learn, play, and connect.  Facebook has changed how we forge, maintain, and end relationships.  It is subtly changing the neuropsychology of how we interact/problem solve/demonstrate compassion.  Facebook has radically altered our habit loops in regards to human interactions.

To learn more about how habits affect our neuropsychology, and how to change habits, please click here.

What does Facebook have to do with the demise of Barnes and Noble?  The answer can be found in our habits.

Humans develop patterns of behavior called habits.  These patterns shape our lives.  First, we have a cue or trigger.  Then, we perform a behavior.  Finally, we receive a reward.  Let's look at Facebook, for example.  You're sitting at home, feeling a little lonely.  You go to Facebook, scroll through your News Feed, click "Like" on several status updates, a picture of a kitten nestled in a fuzzy slipper, and a cartoon of President Obama as Dumbo with Michelle feeding him peanuts.  You instantly feel less bored and lonely.  In your mind, you have connected.  But have you?  Have you connected in a way that is truly meaningful?  I assert: we are not feeling as fulfilled as we think we are with our electronic connections, or we wouldn't be going back again and again.  We wouldn't be signing up for Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to experience the reward of connecting with someone immediately, with very little sincerity or genuine effort.

Connecting in meaningless, superficial ways has become a societal habit and that habit is reprogramming the way we connect with the world at large.

Who needs to go to a bookstore and deal with pushy salesclerks and annoying customers when we can just buy a Kindle and click "Download"?  So now, we read our newspapers and buy our books online.  Our need for instant gratification has rendered human contact unnecessary.  Ironic, isn't it?

I read books, chat with my friends, walk through the mall, because I wish to connect, to have a better understanding of the world at large.  Technology is transforming the way I read books, chat with my friends, purchase my luxuries and necessities.  Technology is reprogramming my habit patterns, but the rewards aren't nearly as satisfying. 

I guess I am a traditionalist (or maybe I am getting old), because I would rather sit across the table from a dear friend, share a meal, a laugh, a conversation about something more meaningful than Farmville.  I would rather receive a handwritten Christmas card than a free eCard.  And I would rather spend an afternoon perusing the shelves at Barnes and Noble for my latest read.

Some habits are hard to change.

Click here to read more about the slow, painful demise of Sears, Office Max, and (gasp) Barnes and Noble.

Does it bother you that bookstores have become the endanger species in our retail jungle?  Will you miss the days of being able to go into a store and hold a glossy book in your hands?

If you are a lover of traditional books - one who prefers holding the paper version, feeling the weight of it in your hands, smelling the aged print -  will you make an effort to purchase fewer electronic books?  Will you increase your spending in stores like Barnes and Noble?

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