Saturday, August 09, 2014

Shelf Space

Say what you will about my wife and I and our approach to the world, but we are both generally the organized types (please, no snickering from those of you who know us well). It goes for most things we do individually and as a couple, from cooking to packing to household chores. And it includes the way we've arranged our various spaces. In my office there are lots of shelves to hold files, tapes and source materials for projects. Likewise, in hers we installed large filing cabinets to hold the papers that were the lifeblood of her occupation. And in the joint personal environs that is our home, we did the same: we insured there was plenty of space for the collections we would add to, namely books and CDs and videos.  

But were we starting from dead level today, we could put Zen gardens in every one of those locations for all the traffic they get.

It's one thing to say we live in a "digital" world, it's another to come face to face with the historical underpinnings. In all of the above referenced locations, there is space after space filled with an accumulation of physical items that we selectively and proudly added to, then organized by color or size or date or alphabet, the better to be able to retrieve exactly what we wanted in the shortest period of time. Yet as of this moment, almost none has been touched in periods best described in years.

It's not like there's anything wrong with the stuff itself. We're not talking about the uselessness of the items in question because they are not the latest or the most stylish or because they don't work. Quite the contrary. In fact, partly due to the care we took in cataloging them, most are in pristine condition, save a light layer of dust that has accumulated over time.  

No, in our household as in yours, the things that we likely spent thousands of dollars on can't find an audience for love nor money. Today We read our books electronically on Kindles and iPad and smartphones. CD's would have a hard time finding a player to play them. And physical papers and folders are either out of date or faded into illegibility. Put another way, even if we cleaned that layer of dust off, you literally couldn't give any of it away.

Indeed, it has changed the way we look at space itself. We had always tried to lay out our environs to accommodate both things and people. It was a state of constant change, as the stuff seemed to continually expand in volume and quantity from its starting point, the people not so much (as long as we're not factoring in the "cookie dividend"). But with flat screens and mobile devices and cloud storage, the stuff has reached stasis or even contracted its local footprint. As such, it is occupying square footage that is now fallow and can be redeveloped.  

It's kind of like one of those future dystopia movies, where Washington Square turns into a weed-choked lot. Once these shelves were active, vibrant spaces constantly updated with the latest music, videos or books. And now? Now, depending on your point view, they are filled with nostalgic, retro or simply lame examples of past states of the art, stuff you would be embarrassed to admit owning. Can you say "Let's Get Physical?"  (For further proof, see WNYC's "Soundcheck" video of three schoolchildren reviewing 1994's "The Sign" by Ace of Base: "The song made me feel sad – sad for this person's life.")

Sure, we add to our closets, but strip away the bell bottoms and wide ties. We buy new types of cookies, but the old ones are consumed. We stockpile ever more sports equipment, holding out hope that those cross country skis will still fit when it once again decides to snow. And shoes multiply like rabbits, because you never know when you'll be invited to a country and western concert, and need that pair of cowboy boots.

But as for the analog analogues of our current digital standards? They lay neglected, unloved and unused. And when I can fit literally the equivalent of everything on those shelves onto my phone, the die is easily cast. Put another way, to some sound purists, analog may rule, but digital takes up far less space.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has too much stuff. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

No comments: