The other day I had a triumphal experience. My science fiction reading circle had decided to read Orwell’s 1984, which I had not read or had reason to consult since high school. Amazon wanted almost $10 for the Kindle edition, after covering themselves in ironic glory by vaporizing an earlier version, so access plan A was out. But maybe, just maybe I had it on a shelf somewhere?
And sure enough, I did! After a half-hour search, there it was, in with several hundred other books I’ve picked up over the years from thrift stores, yard sales and library clearances, all just in case maybe someday I might need them. A nasty, cheap, perfectly good used school edition of the book, with plenty of bent pages but no signs of actual previous reading.
Man, am I smart.
Yet, dimly I perceive that this one triumph may not entirely justify the general clutter that enabled it, or the attendant ‘need’ my wife and I have to pay for a two story, four bedroom house to store all those maybes, or all that weight to carry when we move. Wouldn’t it be smarter to let someone else’s walls and closets store my intellectual bric-a-brac? With a 1/300 hit rate over many years, I’m thinking I could pay Amazon a $10 ‘storage fee’ for that one book plus all the other ones I don’t need (yet?) and come out way ahead in quality of life.
Perhaps I ought to think of this cloud of ethereal whatsits out of which Amazon, E-bay and Craig’s List materialize things we need on demand in the same way I already think about non-prescription sunglasses and umbrellas, as things no one owns so much as rents from time to time for a small usage charge. Should I throw my clutter back into this magnificent vortex? Would this be more like communism, or maybe even Harry Potter?
UPDATE: Undine has a great post up reflecting in part on Warburg’s Library, now under threat, in which memory is represented by a perpetual flux of relationships. What would cloud storage of our books do to the connections we can make by sifting through a physical archive? How about the identities created and revealed by the more durable selections we make, as John discusses in the comments below?