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?