Sunday, 8 September 2013

You Have Reached Your Destination Turn Around When Possible.

I was driving back from a school event recently and found myself stuck at the back of a very long queue on the M6.

I sat there fuming. "The motorway is broken. If this were a railway we'd all be screaming for compensation by now." And yet time after time we drive onto the motorways, deluding ourselves that we'll go streaming off to our destination like the hero in some kind of upbeat road trip film. Except we drive straight into the back of a traffic jam. And wait.

"After eight miles, take the exit..." The SatNav said, bland and irritating.

"Eight miles? Who're you kidding? Why have I even got the SatNav ON?"

And then it occurred to me. 

"I know how to get home from here WITHOUT using the motorway!" I looked down at the little black box clinging bat-like to my windscreen. "YOU brought me here! It was YOU!"

I took the next exit and drove along empty B roads. Nothing got in my way. Every now and then, the road would cross over the motorway and I'd look down on the traffic jam. Not moving. Going nowhere.

"Each one of them has been taken down there by a SatNav!" I whispered. "They just plugged it in and asked for the quickest route. Only it isn't the quickest route because everyone takes it!"

"Turn around when possible," the SatNav replied, trying to get me back on the M6.

Tearing the SatNav from the screen, I tossed it into the back of the car and drove home. I arrived marginally later than the SatNav predicted I would had I used an empty M6 but I was home and I'd had a much more interesting journey!

I was musing on this when reading James Mayhew's (no relation) blog post about Books Are My Bag day next Saturday. You can read it here

It's an imperfect analogy, I know but I can't help thinking about my SatNav when I think of Amazon. 

I have a kindle and I love the convenience of online shopping. Technology changes the way we live (and shop) and that won't be uninvented.

But I worry that technology narrows our experience sometimes, too. Will the vast majority of the British public, for whom reading is a fringe pastime, end up with so much choice that they'll flick the Amazon 'SatNav' on and read an ever-narrowing list of Best-Sellers that pop up on the 'recommended' list? What if we all end up on a literary M6?

Whether my analogy works or not, I don't know but I do know that I've seen far too many book shops close recently and they are my 'B' roads that will get you to a destination just as quickly in a jam.

Saturday September 14th is The Big Bookshop Party - why not join in? All you have to do is pop along to your nearest physical bookshop and buy a book that would probably cost you the price of a latte and a muffin.