When Browsing Becomes A Waste of Time

I’ve touched on this before in a post on the loss of the brick and mortar bookstore.

I’m forgetting how to browse, forgetting I need to browse, and I’m feeling guilty when I do. It seems a waste of time (and sometimes money) because most of the time, I find nothing. Of course, when I browse, I’m not looking for anything in particular anyway, so I should not feel disappointed, should I?

When shopping, whether for books, music, or clothes, I have two possible frames of mind. Frame number one: I know what I want, and just need to find it. For instance, a book. I may have a choice between pb, hc, or ebook, but that’s all the thinking I need to do. Type on the title; click when it comes up. Ditto with music. If I absolutely need something specific in the way of clothes, I’ll hunt for it at a large chain like Nordstrom, either online or in person. (Sometimes I’ll look online, then go pick it up in person.)

The second frame of mind is the browse, and that’s when I just want to see what’s out there. I will browse for clothes at a cut-price place like Stein Mart. I don’t go there for something specific, like a basic dressy tee shirt in taupe, because 90% of their stuff is actually kind of weird. There’s a reason it’s 50% or 80% off. It’s a weird color, or has an annoying ruffle detail, or is cut oddly in such a way as to flatter no living human. They aren’t going to have what you’re looking for, in other words, but they might have something in the 10% not-weird stash that you like, and that fits, and that is a great buy. Just as often however, I leave empty-handed.

Browsing music is easier than it has ever been. With iTunes, Apple nailed this one. Genius it isn’t; maybe they should call it Above Average, but still, I can easily spend forty-five minutes (my optimal browsing time) clicking around from here to there. Whether I buy anything or not, I’ve had fun, and I’ve learned something. And, unlike in my youth, I no longer have radio stations or record companies choking off my choices. On the contrary, public radio, of all things, is a tremendous source for finding new music–KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and NPR’s All Songs Considered are two of my favorites.

I’ve already gone over the loss of bookstores, and how that’s choked off my book browsing activity. iBooks chokes me in a way that iTunes does not. Their “browse” section leaves off most of what they have. They seem only to feature bestsellers, most of which don’t interest me and anyway, I already know about them. Their treatment of speculative fiction is abysmal, though no worse, I suppose, than my local Barnes and Noble. I discovered a “Sci-Fi and Fantasy under $6.99” button though, and that is actually a good place to find the mid-list titles, including interesting self-published selections.

Nonetheless, technology is driving me toward the non-browsing mode of shopping, and instead to go to the reviews, the recommended reading lists, and the like. I have read that most books are sold by word-of-mouth; my trouble is that few of my friends and loved ones read what I like to read. I need to expand my word-of-mouth to word-of-screen. I just haven’t gotten quite into the swing of things yet.

This post feels like a ramble (like a browse of thoughts?) and I feel the need to move on.

I hope I don’t lose the ability to browse, as I’ve had some great discoveries in the process. It’s a wonderful state of being–passive, yet alert. Meditative, humbly open the Universe’s offerings. I emerged calmer and somehow wiser, and sometimes with a fabulous prize of something new and unexpected.

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