Wednesday, April 13, 2011


While browsing the Unclutterer blog I came across the post "Keeping book clutter off the bookshelf." No, the post itself was not the problem. I am always paring down my book collection and donating books I either did not care for or do not plan on reading again. The writer had some great advice, particularly regarding "look-how-cool-I-am books." You know you have some. (Although I disagreed with her about the reference books - you can probably find all that online.)

You know that Internet adage to "never read the comments"? Yeah. According to a genius named Anne:
Scan your books – it’s easy (especially with paperbacks). Just slice off the spine with a knife and metal ruler, which takes about two minutes, then feed through your ScanSnap and OCR. They are as clear and easy to read on the iPad as any downloaded ebook, you can take your book collection anywhere, free up all that shelf space, and keep your books backed up offsite. File size is around 20 to 30 mb per book, which in this day and age is hardly a drain on storage space. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I can’t help thinking anyone who prefers a shelf full of books over this can’t be a true unclutterer.

Take a second to read that again. JESUS CHRIST, LADY.

I work in a archives/rare books department. We have shelf after shelf after shelf of reel-to-reel films, videocassettes, U-Matics, cassette tapes, LP's, you name it. Obsolete recording technology. Some of it we don't even have the equipment to play. We have to pay money to send them to a company that upgrades old formats to DVD, which is itself going rapidly out of style. Now consider that nearly all of our output today is electronic. It's been said that everything we produce is going to disappear because it has no physical existence that can be preserved in the real world. Not some nebulous datasphere but in reality. We have letters written two hundred years ago but what's going to become of texts, emails, and digital media files? Even if some forward-thinking individual did save a lot to their hard drive, will our future devices be able to access it? What if the files become corrupted or deleted? Did you create backups? Then back to the previous question: will we be able to access those backups? (Maybe you repeatedly transferred your data to new formats, but did you do that for the backups too?) I recently accessioned a collection of poetry manuscripts and correspondence from a local woman who lived a century ago. I can read her words (insofar as I can decipher Victorian scrawl) but I can't listen to a concert recorded in 1975.

I'm not opposed to digitalization. I got rid of most of my CD's and now buy all my music from Napster for my MP3 player. I went on vacation recently and the airline misplaced my bag. My laptop power cord was in there. (I know, I know, bad idea.) While I was waiting two days to get my bag back, the laptop finally died and took my MP3 player with it because it can only be recharged through a USB port. The only reason I had music at all was because I was able to dig out a Discman I had been planning to get rid of, thinking I could just play my remaining CD's on Windows Media Player. Now imagine if that MP3 player had been a Nook or Kindle. Also consider that my (obsolete) Discman could have been busted from being in the back of the closet all this time or, as often happens, I may not have had the batteries for it.

Imagine if some horrible disaster happens. Anything from Japan to Katrina to full-scale all-out apocalypse. Where are you going to recharge that Kindle, huh? What historian is going to be able to recover your digital media files and explore our culture's art, literature, knowledge, and ideas? Oh, that's right, they couldn't because the information on your Nook technically doesn't exist.

And I haven't even gotten to the part where she's DESTROYING A BOOK.

Anne, you just don't know when to stop, do you.
@Heather. Sorry if I seemed harsh but I do think my opinion is equally valid: So in your view my books are better off yellowing, gathering dust, too heavy to travel with, and prone to physical damage than beautifully preserved forever and readable on a gorgeous piece of technology? True book lovers should adore the fact that we are entering the age of the ebook. I’ve never understood this books-are-sacred, I-love-the-smell-of-old-library-books mumbo jumbo. I think some people are just not cut out to be unclutterers (nothing wrong with that but maybe this website isn’t for you) and book hoarders definitely aren’t.
Sweet sleeping Cthulhu. (I just got an 878-page Lovecraft edition, by the way. FUCK YOU ANNE.) Since Anne clearly has problems with reading comprehension, perhaps it is she who does not belong on Unclutterer. They have said repeatedly that their philosophy is not about asceticism or anti-consumerism. "Instead it’s about streamlining your space and your possessions so that you can be more efficient at work and enjoy a more relaxing and serene environment at home." Uncluttering is about carefully evaluating your purchases and cutting down on distractions by discarding things you don't need, don't use, or don't care for. I realize some people feel that they don't need physical books, and that's cool. Like I said, I buy all my music digitally. But I don't pretend it's the only way to enjoy music. Many of us value our libraries and love their presence as tangible collections of human creativity. My organized, streamlined books are not clutter. To me, my CD's where but my books are not. Seriously. . . It's 11:30 at night and I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow. Anne's idiocy pretty much speaks for itself and I really don't feel like spending any more time on this.

Oh Lordy, look folks she's at it again:
@Anna N. As long as you keep multiple backups of your files, they will be forever. And trust me, PDF files will be readable forever. I would bet a lot of money on that.

And could I just add: If you can afford to buy the book, please don’t borrow it from the library. You’re hurting the author by denying them the full revenue for their work, and you’re stopping a truly poor person from having access to the book while you borrow it. If you’re worried about clutter, get the ebook. In Japan buying second-hand or borrowing when you have the money to buy is considered bad form, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.

You hear that? Libraries are for poor people. Don't use them.

I hate this woman.


Emily said...

Anne's Thoreau-esque uncluttering machisma (anyone who doesn't go walking the same way he goes walking isn't doing it right) is a big reason I often find that site depressing, even though I am in complete agreement with their basic premise. Yes, I want to find ways to make the most of my limited urban space, and decrease clutter. No, I am NOT interested in destroying or disposing of my most valued possessions just because a certain subset of other people don't understand the appeal. I don't want to unclutter my house until I'm living in some kind of wired concrete bunker. It's all about BALANCE, people. A difficult concept for many, it seems.

Maybe someone should offer to "unclutter" Anne's life by slicing up her pets and family members and feeding them through a food processor. Then they wouldn't be taking up all that inconvenient space. You know, dirtying the kitchen, smelling up the bathroom. Her existence could be completely hermetically sealed!

Caitlin said...

People are idiots. I've been involved with computers and the Internet in some form or fashion since the late eighties and if there's one thing I know for sure it's that things disappear from computers plus people can reach out and disappear things from computers and digital devices. I hate to go all 1984 on people, but let's not forget how much control Amazon has over the books it releases on Kindle - it collects information about its readers and it can pull entire books or sections back if it decides to do so.

Lastly, come the apocalypse all that technology probably isn't going to get you much of anywhere. I just pray enough libraries survive that I can go dig through the rubble for books on farming so we can all eat. Yeesh.

P.S. As a librarian's daughter I hereby urge everyone to use the library - it's a glorious and amazing institution and we're very lucky to have access.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, unbelievable! I like Emily's suggestion...

pwb said...

Gah! Poor books.

And about that library comment, in the UK at least, authors get royalties from library borrowing plus they love the word of mouth marketing that readers give no matter how they got the book.

E. L. Fay said...

Emily: I see the Unclutterer blog as simply offering suggestions and inspiration but I do think they go too far at times. Like, we should consider getting rid of the dresser? A lot of the rooms they showcase are just barren and sterile. (To be fair, that look appears a lot on Apartment Therapy too.) And then many of the commentators get so judgmental and minimalist-than-thou it's ridiculous. There was one person awhile back (maybe it was Anne!) who said that no true Unclutterer would have a TV. I don't have one either but I don't think that makes me better than someone who has both a TV and a giant but well-organized and much-loved CD collection. Uncluttering is supposed to be about what works for you.

Caitlin: Great point! The more we digitize the more we put ourselves at the mercy of someone else's whims. And I like that image of the library surviving the collapse of civilization. Sounds like a great set-up for a post-apocalyptic novel. Maybe something inspired by the survival of Classical learning in monasteries after the fall of Rome. Of course, digital media doesn't stand a chance in such a scenario.

Jill: Ha!

PWB: We don't do that here in the US, unfortunately, but it's a great idea. Personally, I believe in supporting authors as much as I can too and for that reason I do try to buy my books, but that's just not practical for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God. She's a BOOK MURDERER! And wasn't there talk of you only keep things you love...meaning she doesn't love books?

And my computer crashed twice tonight, which just adds a further level of irony to her technology is all you need argument.

I think asshat is a good adjective for Anne.

E. L. Fay said...

Yep. Electronics sure are prone to more disasters than really anything else in your daily life.

parrish lantern said...

If my understanding is correct, the whole idea behind removing the clutter is to break away from all distractions & concentrate on what you love, LOVE, the mad person strikes me merely as a hater. Also if libraries are bad for writers, why are they, in this time of library closures, some of the loudest supporters of the library system.

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