Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Reference Library

(65) The Reference Library

Does anyone still miss the Sears catalogue? They stopped printing it in 1993 and a huge outcry arose, largely from Middle America where the book was a standard reference, on the shelf right next to the Bible and the phonebook. Sometimes, it was the only actual book in the house.

Now, who cares, right?

After all, the stuff that made Sears and the catalogue unique just don’t sell anymore. Modular homes are all the rage. But “Sears Homes,” their predecessor, haven’t been available since the early 1940s. Farm and work clothing? Franklin Stoves? Inexpensive “store brand” musical instruments? All stuff you either don’t want or don’t need or can buy on any corner.

In killing the catalogue, they killed what was unique about them. Yeah, it didn’t generate much business. But it was still the centerpiece.

Kind of like GM saying “okay, we’re still General Motors, but we’re not going to make cars anymore, since no one really wants them, anyway.”

Kind of like DeBeers deciding to mine only potatoes.

Traditions die every day, and new ones arise to take their place.

What’s disturbing about the vanishing catalogue is what it might foretell.

Like the end of the telephone book.

Who needs a phone book, right? You have all those internet search engines, all willing to give you numbers, reverse numbers, addresses, business listings.

But it ain’t the same.

The Yellow Pages is one of America’s favorite bathroom books. And it gives you a good snapshot of your community. It’s not the same on the internet.

What reference material will be next to go. The World Almanac? The Old Farmer’s Almanac?

The PDR? The manual of baseball stats?

All stuff you can find on the internet. But you can’t bring the internet into the bathroom. At least not easily.

Of course, someone will figure out a way to make a bathroom computer. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll have a waterproof screen on a little stand right next to the sink.

Speakers built into the wall or the shower.

They’re turning paper goods into electrons every day. But there are some kinds of paper that they can’t replace.

Virtual toilet tissue just won’t make it. Nor virtual napkins.

Did you know that while Sears no longer has catalogues, it has catalogue racks for sale? Something on which you can rest and view your… um… what?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.™

©wjr 2006

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