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A view of the accelerando? - Grin with cat attached
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A view of the accelerando? Oct. 24th, 2007 11:09 pm
It's all somewhat ridiculous really.

One of my longest-serving pieces of furniture is a solid Ikea bookshelf, about 6' by 6' by 18". I have an objective that all of my books, games and photographic gear (and, I supposed, computer gear) should be able to fit onto this in order to allow me to move into a studio flat. At the moment I live in a one-bedroom flat, and pay more rent, realistically speaking, to house my possessions than myself.

At the moment I own, at an educated (hrm) guess, 600-700 books, which overfill that bookshelf and a couple of others in here. Logically, I can't need all of those - they'd take years to read. Indeed, many or most of them haven't been opened in years, some of them never read. Yet I'd fully bought into the conceit of the liberal intelligentsia that fancies itself somehow above consumerism, and bought books as if I'd be scored on, or my soul weighted against, their net mass.

I've just spent the last few hours going through these bookshelves trying to realistically see what I can get rid of. I've warmed up to this mentally traumatic task over the last couple of weeks by doing the same to my paperwork and clothes. Paperwork, much as it loves to accumulate, self-dates quite easily, as do clothes when you're somehow still growing (and not only around the waist) around the age of 30, and have the hoarding capacity of a magpie.

Middle-class liberal environmentalism, of course, coupled with the class guilt of thrifty storage "for a rainy day" hates to throw anything away. Breaking that habit is difficult at the least, but by doing so, and recognising worthless rubbish for what it is, I've cleared nearly dozen black bin bags from the flat, and in true FoE-card-carrying struggle, about the same number of orange ones full of paper. The problem however lies in the stuff that's obviously useful and usable by someone else. Many of my too-small clothes are still in good repair. I have, for reasons too banal to explain, a box full of stuffed toys. No charity shop can take these, for liability reasons, so they've stayed with me, because it would be a self-evident waste to simply throw them away. The books - let's estimate that 300 of them need re-homing - are also going to be non-trivial to dispose of. With the exception of small numbers of some smaller and/or higher-value goods, we simply have no effective mechanism in our society for redistribution of second-hand and unneeded goods. Those exceptions I count as charity shops (a complete financial loss for the redistributor, and unable to take many forms of toys and anything electrical), Freecycle (again a dead loss, with added co-ordination issues), or ebay (and if you think I'm going to list / post 300 books...). Yes, two of those are new and a step in the right direction, but in reality fall far short of a suitably broad channel. One more traditional disposal method for the books might be to see if a second-hand store will take a job lot, but then there are peculiarities in the specific books involved.

(This is, of course, why 'lifestyle makeover' shows or articles make the 'grande geste' of the potlach and simply send everything through a woodchipper or up in flames. Being less dramatic requires far more work).

And that's where the slightly strange and indulgent reference to the accelerando comes in. I may be misusing it slightly as a synonym of [Accelerating_change], but the reference to Stross' work has certain undertones that feel relevant. Some of the books are timeless fiction (although ironically most of those are sci-fi). Others are university texts only "widely" used in a small geographical group a decade ago. Yet more are technical manuals; O'Reilly guides and suchlike, that have a useful shelflife similar to that of a moderately fissile isotope. The exim 3, or PHP 4 guides are utterly useless now - fit for little more than pulping. The XML and network management books have more lasting relevance, but will be grossly outdated in the detail. And finally, the foreign-language books I have in the previous categories will have a vanishingly small readership.

The set of books that I felt most uncomfortable marking for disposal, however, were the dictionaries. Collins' standards of 10-20 years ago, not touched in half-a-dozen years - tomes 4-5 inches thick, now so much dead weight to me. That really felt like a betrayal of my studious youth and intellect.

And then I realised that they were a complete irrelevance. Anything I need in there I can look up online or use a spellchecker for.

While I was doing this work, I was listening to an audiobook; one that shared a topic - history - with many of the well-meaning but unread volumes gathered over the last few years: "War of the World: History's age of hatred" by Niall Ferguson. Now to some extent the topic is irrelevant; the point is that my immediate purchase of this morning was not only making itself directly accessible to me while I worked, but while I listened to it, and afterwards, would take no space in my life. An audiobook is a puff of air, a patch of dust; even if you must account for the physical size of its electronic storage, a dozen could fit into an SD card the size of a postage stamp. When I tired of it, it can never become landfill, or require some other form of redistribution; it can simply cease to exist, if I so choose, with no carbon release.

So, on that basis, most of my books are an utter anachronism. Even those requiring images or diagrams could reside within, say, a large-screen ipod or small laptop.

Looking around the room, what else is so completely outmoded? My TV, VCR and DVD player. I use none of them; and if I did need those functions I could simply use the laptop I write this on, smaller than any of them. The phone on the wall is a joke; it's there because a few officious groups "need to take a landline number" and as a substrate to ADSL. The server in the corner, the vast desk above it, and the monitor and keyboard on top, are equally irrelevant. The server was shut down months back to cut electricity uses; its sole function as a backup device now performed by a 500GB device smaller than the laptop. The audio CDs in the rack serve only as grotesquely overlarge proofs of license for the music I've ripped into electronic format. In short, there is a vast amount of outdated crap in here which has been superseded in the last 5-10 years and which I no longer need.

And the question that leaves me asking is, how many years will pass before I say this again? Will we all soon be recycling our lives on 6,3-year, 18 or 9 month basis? Or will the next future shock be quite different?

And... does anyone want a box of stuffed toys?

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From: wechsler
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 04:06 am (Link)
I'd not claim, although I may have appeared to above, that all books can be effectively replicated as audiobooks. Many will need a visual display instead (or as well), so that they can be read in the way we're used to. This may require an advance (and drop in price) in e-book reader technology - I don't know now much the latest ones cost or weigh, but I don't think they're quite there yet. What is needed is something with a reasonably large and clear display, and a responsive interface that's light enough to hold up in front of you for long periods. To my mind, the treo fails on its display quality and size, laptops fail on weight and bulk, but I wonder if, for example, an iPod touch or iPhone - two devices dedicated to optimum display in minimum package size - might be capable of doing this job extremely well for most books that don't have massively technical diagrams.

Once we can own a technology, that is either cheap in itself or comes as part of another device, the "feel of the book" will then be just an aesthetic luxury that we probably don't need.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From: webcowgirl
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:46 am (Link)
I can't stand ebooks or audio books. Audio books take too long and ebooks are too flickery and techno-ey. I want something I can read on a beach and not worry about getting wet.
From: babysimon
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:32 am (Link)
This may require an advance (and drop in price) in e-book reader technology

I would buy an e-book reader yesterday, regardless of the technology, if there was a single standardised, well-supported format without DRM.

Sadly that's a long way from the state of affairs.
From: azekeil
Date: October 24th, 2007 - 08:04 pm (Link)
I'll soon be facing the same dilemma. I'm considering going through my stuff, organising it, taking photos and posting them somewhere like FreeCycle stating a day that they can be collected on and a location. Anything that doesn't go then goes into a skip.
From: azekeil
Date: October 24th, 2007 - 08:35 pm (Link)
When I say photos, I mean a photo containing a whole bunch of stuff that's just going to go on as-is, undescribed. If there's enough there to tempt someone to come and have a proper look, so much the better.
From: faerierhona
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 02:03 am (Link)
I am sorting through my life too. In a few months I plan to move and am seeing what I REALLY need to take with me. I can't imagine getting rid of books though! That said, I can quite easily read 5 books a week, if I am chiling out for a weekend that doubles, so actually that isn't so many.

I will be seeing the stuff off - or doing what I just did with the CDs. In fact, why not ask booklectic if she would like some books for her stall? She is taking my remaining CDs
From: wechsler
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 04:10 am (Link)
Leaving aside whether I actually care about the following fact, my point with the CDs is that, to legally own the electrical copies, I need to own the physical medium they were bought on. If I pass on the physical CDs, I lose title to the data. Even if I drop them all in a landfill somewhere, it's a legal gray area at best.

I may or may not actually care about this, but law and society haven't caught up with the change in technological reality.
From: faerierhona
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 04:25 am (Link)
*nods* I am giving away the CDs and not keeping the musicm by the way, because I LIKE CDs, I like having the originals on view
From: steer
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 04:54 am (Link)
With the CDs the cases could go to landfill and the disks themselves kept in binders (or if you really don't care simply in a box with the leaflets or a sticker to identify them).
From: webcowgirl
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:47 am (Link)
I think holding on to your CDs for that reason alone is silly. You think the CD police are going to start going house to house like the TV police do?
From: wechsler
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:52 am (Link)
That's pretty much my point. But I'm sure the RIAA would love to...
From: booklectic
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 04:36 am (Link)
I was just about to suggest the stall. And/or my Xmas party.
From: webcowgirl
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:48 am (Link)
I think the stall and the Christmas party would be a wonderful plan for the books!
From: steer
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 04:57 am (Link)
As you know, I did something similar -- trimmed five large bookshelves and some wall shelves to just a pair of bookshelves which also contain videos and DVDs as well as books. My method was to have a huge party and invite people to just take stuff. Then I had the luxury of a large flat to party in.
From: kekhmet
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:16 am (Link)
Does not one go to a used book shop to sell off ones books here? That's certainly what one does in the US. I used to work in used bookshops for a living , and a big part of the skills I learnt there were the art of buying books from people at a price they would part with them for but that would also give the store enough margin on reselling the books in question for it to be worth having acquired them for the shop at all. There definitely are used book shops in London (and indeed all over the UK) and they get their stock *somewhere*.
From: kekhmet
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 05:24 am (Link)
It occurs to me that you might have meant " a used book shop" by "a second hand shop". But in that case I fail to see that there is not an effective mechanism for selling on books. To me, books are one of the few categories second-hand goods that *do* have an effective mechanism in place for selling them on. (As do music, dvds, and computer games - provided you've got anything people want!)

books

From: snesgirl
Date: October 25th, 2007 - 07:04 am (Link)
I'd gladly take even the outdated o'reily's of fyoru hand and boookmooch them.
You wont' get any financial recompensation but they willl be passed onto people who actually need them and it's a far better alternative than pulping or reducing to landfill.

The stuffed toys, is there a womens' shelter or a childrens' hospital near you ? Donate the toys there.

As for hard copies of digitalised media, yes there is a certain sense of built in anachronisim there, but then hard data copies of digitised files can be very handy for data retrival.

I don't know about the rest of your post, I guess that as long as we all trundle along on the capitalist model we we allways accumulate uneeded STUFF. It's one of the major flaws of hte system.