Your local library

The internet isn’t fun any more.  It’s lost its novelty, its mystery.  Once, you might have spent hours looking for a decent X-Files episode guide.  Now, with the almighty Google at our disposal, you’ll find exactly what you need before you’ve even finished typing your search terms.  Fifteen years ago, websites were either the province of big business, or one of millions of little islands, tenuously linked, built by amateur enthusiasts.  Now content is divided into what amounts to television channels – you’ve got your basic terrestrial channels in Google, Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia and Tumblr/Twitter/Wordpress.  Your package is rounded out by a couple of blogs/content aggregators like the Gawker Network (i09, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Jezebel), Cracked.com or Thought Catalog.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go back.  No way.  It’s fun to wax nostalgic about how bad it used to look, but the world as we know it would grind to an unceremonious halt if we had to put up with the internet of ’97 today.  Nonetheless, I do miss its sense of discovery.  You never knew what you might find while desperately combing hundreds of badly-made sites for the one thing you needed.  This is still the case, but nothing happens by accident.  Everything is tracked, categorised and listed for your convenience.  You’ll never stumble across something completely unexpected.

A couple of months back, I did something I haven’t done in a long time – I got a library card.  I never bothered with libraries when I was younger because once I got past a certain age, they never seemed to have anything I wanted.  If I wanted a book I’d just buy it.  There’s a library just across the road, though, and since I moved in I figured I’d join up.  What’s the harm?  It’s free.  And in doing so, I felt a little of the spirit of the Old Internet between its silent shelves.

It’s a community library, so it’s full of large-print crime trash for old people and children’s books.  Some things never change.  But I glanced through the paltry social sciences section and found a couple of things that looked interesting.  Books on the sociology of Scotland.  Histories of Europe.  Examinations of the effect of music on the brain.  I could’ve found any number of bullet-list articles on these subjects on the internet had I the inclination.  But I didn’t.  I just wanted to see videos of pugs chasing laser pointers.  In the library, free of immediate distractions, my mind was allowed to glance over what was available and realise that yes, I am quite interested in a decent text on the role of Poland in the Second World War.

If you know exactly what it is you want to know, nothing beats the internet.  But I think perhaps the most valuable knowledge comes from the spaces between the facts.

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