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Back Talk — Rip Van Winkle Awakes

by | Sep 30, 2021 | 0 comments

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Column Editor:  Ann Okerson  (Advisor on Electronic Resources Strategy, Center for Research Libraries) 

Against the Grain Vol. 33#4

That was quite a nap!  Oh, sorry, you don’t know me, but my name is Rip Van Winkle, and I lay me down in the late winter of 2020 for a little rest and just started stirring around and trying to go back to my routines.  It’s been confusing.

When I go walkabout, the world is oddly empty in some places and mobbed in others.  Why are there so many people in the mall walking back and forth past so many boarded up storefronts?  Is it just my imagination, or are there suddenly a lot fewer bank branches open?  Why are some people wearing masks and some of them not?  And what’s with the couples where one has a mask on and the other doesn’t?

I’ve only been up and around for a couple of weeks, but already I have a lot more apps on my phone and many more streaming services on my TV, and the confusion is amazing.  I went into a favorite little café of mine, and they wouldn’t give me a menu — made me scan a code and squint — and I mean squint — at my phone to scroll through a four-page menu in type too small (on the phone) for the human eye.  “You can zoom it,” the server said — oh, good, so I can see half an entry at a time!  

The TV confusion is a lot worse than before.  Before I went to sleep, Google had taken over the world with its search engine, but now I look for the next episodes of that Canadian series I was watching last year and there’s no front end search engine for videos at all — I’m framming through one app after another, looking at one streaming service or another.  And, when I want to pay for stuff to watch, I usually can’t do that on the TV — I have to go get another device and mess around there for a while.  These people should learn from librarians about metadata, consolidated search, and single sign-in! 

But you know, I’ve been catching up with so much on my TV that I find myself wondering if I’ll ever go to movies in a theater again.  In our big mall the other day, I could swear they were deliberately piping in the smell of popcorn from the multiplex theaters a couple of hundred yards away to try to entice me.  

And, right now what really puzzles me is that I spend so much time trying to figure out what’s on my phone, that I barely have time to call anybody — but whenever I do, they’re experiencing — everybody is experiencing — higher than normal call volumes.  I called an airline that said they were so backed up they could call me back — in four to five hours!  

I do have to admit, though, that it seems easier than ever to do my shopping from home, and wherever I go, they seem to have discovered take-out and home delivery and show no signs of giving up on that business.  This afternoon, when I came home to my condo with my take-out, I had trouble getting into the parking area because of the line of Amazon trucks idling outside and the mountains of packages in the lobby.  One apartment complex I know well appears to have permanently installed its own gigantic set of Amazon-style lockers, because of so much trouble receiving packages and keeping them secure.  

I do read the news, but my print newspaper has stopped coming — I wonder what happened to it?  It appears that Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates seem to have gone to splitsville, and their publicists are having a hard time making them look like responsible adults (Melinda and MacKenzie always seemed to me to be people who’d be easier to be around), and there was this entirely weird story, written by somebody (was he dreaming?), that said that Kanye West had run for president last fall!  When I find anything in the news that affects me, it seems that life has gotten hugely more expensive:  house prices have shot up, car rental prices are through the roof — but Uber/Lyft has also gotten expensive.  Even those annoying scooters are more pervasive and way more expensive than ever — and I can’t tell if that has to do with rational government measures to stop global warming or just goofy startup business plans coming home to roost.  And, everybody seems to be complaining about supply chains — as if home renovation contractors didn’t already have enough excuses for getting behind on their schedules!

My quarter-collecting piggy bank was kind of empty, so I took my wallet to my local convenience store to pay for my orange juice in cash, in order to start replenishing her (when she’s full, she donates the quarters to her favorite animal charity).  But the convenience store made me pay my $1.49 via AmEx, claiming that change is in short supply!

And did people really make do with a whole year of no Broadway, no Metropolitan Opera, as well as no movie theaters?  You know, a person could worry that things people were able to do without for over a year might not be as utterly vital to our survival as a society as we thought.

OK, this is still me, Rip.  On another note, lots of tall buildings and parking lots seem very empty, and my doctor’s office just offered me a telemedicine appointment!  What that tells me is that everything that can be done more or less as well remotely as it could be done face-to-face is going to have a boom of virtuality.  People seem to be doing things in person when there’s a good reason to do so, not just out of habit.  But haven’t we gone to some of those places for the human interaction?  Will the anonymity of the mall, all that blank space between the stores with nothing but kiosks for weird skin creams and phone cases, turn into something more like the town square — more people sitting and talking and eating and drinking and just hanging out?

And will people change the way they organize their workplaces as well?  I think they could be bored with cubicles (I know I was) and everyone can use more collaboration, conversation, and just comfort in their working spaces.  I think I’ll mosey on down to the library to see if it’s open — and if it too has adjusted its social mission, inclusiveness, service provision?  Rip Van Winkle is going to need a few more naps before checking that one out!  

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