PHUKET: It’s festive time in the US, which is where I am, hacking out this column caught in the joys of the holiday season. Or perhaps not. Having spent three days here since taking the great plane trip over the ocean, my mind calculates the time-line as some thirty-eight hours. But who’s counting? The short and sweet “me” springs to mind.
What has been so annoying is walking into restaurants, coffee shops and stores or about anywhere, and having to sit through the scripted offering? Do I want to save $10 dollars today by applying for a credit card, or donate books to children some where in the third world or what is my zip code? The latter always tends to have me looking downtown to make sure things are tucked away correctly.
All I really want to do is order, pay and leave with the minimum amount of plastic glee. But I, once again as is the case all too often, inserted a left turn while wishing to instead put the pedal to the metal and speed down a straightaway. Turns are for the indecisive or burned-out-early types.
“Boys, we are steering clear back on course,” comes a chorus from my inner shipmates. So back we go. Suddenly the name Phelps springs to mind – Jim Phelps from Mission Impossible. In the original television series, before Tom Cruise came along, each episode would start out with the message that would be destroyed once relayed to Phelps who commanded a small but lively band of secret agents.
Immediately after playing, the device would self-destruct. In the old days of spying when coded messages where the norm, the standing instruction was to burn after reading. Get rid of the evidence or else take one of those small suicide pills in case the enemy captured you. Strange how memories of the Cold War still linger around like a former childhood friend on Facebook.
My mission today took an absolutely freaky turn and I have ended up in a public library. With a bit of time on my hands and a twinge of nostalgia, the lure to visit a public library was too hard to resist. Plus, its location is a historical building so not only an earning of karma bullets but my self-esteem and bloated regard for a superior intelligence could be ramped up. Call Socrates, tell him to meet me after for a wrap-up espresso.
It’s been far, far longer than I can recall since I stepped foot into one of these lounges of learning. Growing up, my rabid hatred of school was thankfully offset by a lust for spending days or weeks going from section to section in the library devouring books. These days, I wondered: had the hallways remained relevant? Passing through the doors was similar to a trip down a memory well. Sure it was dusty but rich with an echo of days long past. Once inside, it seemed I had never left.
Yet, as I passed through the rooms, walkways and areas, a fear crept into my heart. Things turned for the worst and a dread that cannot be spoken about found a new home on my lips and in my head.
Where was everyone? This was only a temporary seizure and as I came into the main library a scene out of Starbucks confronted me. Tables were lined with folks, old, young and in-between staring into their laptops or smartphones. Not a single book appeared on any table.
So this is the library in a tech world gone mad. Yes, there was free Wi-Fi and the shelves were heavily laden, yet whatever was happening in the library these days, was on a screen and didn’t involve turning paper pages. Disappointed, I retreated to a nearby mall and a Barnes and Noble mega bookstore.
Certainly this had to be a shoe-in or a dead ringer. Bingo, in my absence two main sections of the store had been turned into a Nook corner which kind of resembled an Apple shop together with droned out people asking canned question and on the other side a Starbucks franchised to the book chain. Over half the space that used to be dedicated to books was now tech and caffeine. Mind you I consume heaps of these.
I’m not quite sure about the fate of the library rolling into future decades, maybe it’s up there in the iCloud with Jesus and Steve Jobs and Elvis. While memories and institutions fade over time, it’s good to see that books remain a life force but an electronic one at that. Jim Phelps, wherever you are, please call home.
— Bill Barnett
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