I used to like buying used print books.
Until I came across ones that had inscriptions in them.
They had been given as gifts, as presents, as commemorations of events. For birthdays, graduations, promotions, anniversaries.
I could feel the weight of emotions from other people on them.
They made me feel unclean, like a voyeur, an intruder, a thief.
The people were long dead. But they had given the object a meaning.
And here I was, holding that object of meaning, never imagined by those involved that such a day could ever come to make their intimacies public.
I have always hated landlords.
If you grew up poor, you know exactly what I mean. You’ve seen this happen:
These days, you don’t even have to be poor to experience that. You could be one of the millions of people who mistakenly thought your hard work would create a life of stability. You never imagined the world financial system had been hijacked by sociopaths and your balloon mortgage was nothing but a con game for their own ends.
So you wind up losing your home and your possessions.
People pass by your stuff — and they don’t know.
They don’t know that’s the first mattress you’ve ever had, and that it’s lasted twenty years and has imprinted on it the conception of your three children; that it was sanctuary for those children who snuck in to sleep with you during the night; that it was your comfort during that bout of pneumonia that laid you up for three weeks.
They don’t know all the hours and all the worries and all the exhaustion and relief that went into acquiring any of those things.
They are commodities to strangers.
But they were never just “things” to you.
They were expressions and definitions and validations of your life.
And now we are moving into a world in which sheer imagery and the intangibility and ephemerality of fickle electrons will replace the world of solid objects.
Three separate paragraphs from this article:
The penchant of people to collect and assign meaning to what are often ordinary objects is well known. “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff,” the comedian George Carlin famously observed. But a lot of stuff that often is cherished — printed books, photographs, music CDs — is being replaced by electronic equivalents, such as e-books and iPod downloads. And computers are generating artifacts that have never been stuff — social networking profiles, online game avatars, Foursquare badges— but can hold meaning.
If a house is a place to store your stuff, then a mobile phone might be considered a treasure box that gives you access to your stuff, the interviews revealed. The “placelessness” of virtual possessions stored online rather than on a computer often enhanced their value because they were always available. One 17-year-old participant said she uploaded all of her photos online so that she could access them whether she was in her bed or at the mall. “Obviously, I can’t look at them all and that’s not the point,” she said. “I like knowing that they’ll be there if I want them.”
One opportunity for technology developers, the team said, would be creating technologies that enable users to encode more metadata into their virtual possessions. An example might be aggregating an individual’s status updates, songs most listened to and perhaps even news and weather information associated with a particular event.
In the movie Fight Club, there’s a brilliant depiction of metadata:
That is what each virtual object has floating around it and connected to it: an invisible web of emotional metadata.
A photo of an event we did not participate in doesn’t have the same value to us as for those who were there.
We wind up looking at it with the cold eyes of a landlord or banker.
This is not a world we are yet prepared to deal with.
Twitter takes your tweets and won’t give them back. Facebook can capriciously take away that page you’ve had up for years. Hackers can come along and vandalize a site beyond recovery.
Digital disaster can have as much emotional impact as physical disaster.
How do we intend to deal with that?
June 22, 2010: It’s Not The Device Or The File, It’s The Internet, Stupid!
[T]he thingness of things is going away. Although music via CD, movies via DVD, and books via print still predominate, the inevitable and inescapable trend is downward. Just ask all of the newspaper publishers. Look at your own life and answer this question: When was the last time you printed out a picture you took with a digital camera? I haven’t printed one in years. And even for those people who do print, I’d bet it’s a negligible number when compared to the total population of photos they have that exist solely on their computer’s hard drive (or achived to CD-R, DVD-R, or the Cloud). I can’t think of an object — a “thing” — that’s more personal and valuable to anyone than a photograph. Yet the thingness of those has vanished.
March 26, 2011: Why Your “Collectibles” Are Worthless
4) The people who are still alive are now grown-ups. Seeing a photo online of something they once owned as a child will now suffice, not the thing itself. Just seeing these things was once a very rare event. We now live in a world of digital plenty. Just seeing photos of this stuff for sale on eBay — at laughable minimum bids — is enough of a nostalgic fix. Hell, we can even save the damn photo to our hard drives and look at it any time. We don’t need or even want these things now.