Seems appropriate for a week in which Jessops & HMV (two of the biggest UK high street chains) have both gone under. The physical world that we all grew up with – the solid, tangible world of shops and objects – seems to be vanishing by the day. Go back only a few years, and think about all the things that have disappeared from the world… How do you feel about it?
As someone who loves books, I miss being able to go to Borders or Ottakers and browse through their shelves… As someone who loves records, I miss Tower and HMV… and as a photographer, I already miss Jessops and Jacobs…
We’re not only living through the biggest technological revolution in living memory, we’re also living through the worst economic depression. Is it possible that they’re connected? Could digital forms be eradicating what we might call analogue forms without creating equivalent amounts of money, opportunity, and so on? I suspect that they might be. The film-maker Jem Cohen has some very interesting thoughts on these questions.
He believes that if we want the things we love (such as art) to continue existing, we need to understand that they don’t just generate themselves. We need to support their makers financially, so they can make a living. If we like books, this means buying them, even when it seems easier to download them. Equally, if we like being able to browse them in a bookshop, this means buying them from bookshops, even if that costs more than it would online. The extra cost represents the price of keeping something in existence that does not and cannot exist online.
How many times have you seen people browsing things in shops, then scanning their barcodes and going away to buy the item online? That kind of behaviour shows an astounding ability to prioritise a small short-term gain over a massive long-term loss. Do that enough, and there will be no more shops for us to browse! The fact that people continue to browse in the real world suggests that they like doing so; if online browsing was all they needed, they would not be browsing in the real world.
So that’s my new years’ resolution. Where I have money to spend, I’m spending on the art that I love, and I’m spending it in shops, in the real world, because I want those shops and that art to continue to exist. I know I’m just one consumer. But I’m making my choice and I’m drawing the line here.