Source: Wikipedia

In the 1970s, I could visit a bookstore, a record store, a comic book store. I could go to those things even without a penny in my pocket, just to get the hell out of my apartment, and browse. I could see the things I aspired to buy.

In the 1980s, I could visit a bookstore, a record store, a comic book store, and a video store. Again, it took no money to go to those things. But I was getting older, and the comic book stores were becoming very annoying.

In the 1990s, I could still visit the above, plus computer stores.

During the years 2000-2009, things shrunk to fewer bookstores, far fewer record stores, and one video store (which was actually in a combo record/video store), and the computer stores were mostly gone.

Here it is 2010 and there are no more video stores. There are no more record stores. I will never set foot in a comic book store (they’ve gotten worse!). Computers are a section in other stores (which are also very few). And the bookstores — and comic book stores — are soon to go away.

What is the future going to be like for people when there aren’t any no-money places they can escape to? Places they can indulge their acquisitive aspirations? Or just a place they can go to get the hell out of the house, to escape flailing in their own juices while in the grip of a money shortage?

Will we be left with just the Apple Store? What happens when that goes away? (And it will, since all things pass. Ask some people who ran auto dealerships for generations and lost them during the recent Detroit troubles!)

People would meet new people in such places. You could see someone else browsing in the same music or video section as you and there would an excuse for a conversation. At the very least, you didn’t feel alone in your interests.

What will the future be like when basically all that remains are pay-to-enter places, like McDonald’s, Starbucks, movie theaters, restaurants, bars and clubs? Where going someplace immediately means a commercial transaction must take place?

In this New York Times article, I read of someone who doesn’t mind displaying his daily purchases. He’s a fool. What happens when he’s hit by a bout of unemployment and his spending is contracted to survival purchases? And what happens when his purchases have to go off that grid because his credit has been yanked? Look around: that’s been the reality for millions of people in the past two years — and that’s only the beginning.

So, combine millions of people without the ability to buy things with a contraction in the number of places non-spending people can go to — and what will be the result?

I don’t know.

Yet, I am still a digital book militant, because I see how that ultimately favors writers.

But we writers live among our fellow citizens.

And, just like them, we also rely on places where we don’t need a price of admission.

What happens when we live in a country where the only places to go are literally pay-to-be-here?

Do all the free marketeers have an answer to that? Have they even thought that far (when they think of anything aside from money, that is — and if they ever do that)?

Is the future everyone staying inside, turning on a webcam and indulging in the niche Chatroulettes I think are coming?

Source: Roulette Reactions

Sociologists spoke of the “atomization” of people during the rise of suburbia and the reign of television.

I don’t think they understood what “atomization” can really mean.

We’re all going to find out.

10 responses to “FutureRoulette

  1. “What is the future going to be like for people when there aren’t any no-money places they can escape to?”

    I’ve been without money. The choices were:

    Outside places. But I’m in England and sometimes it rains.

    The library. But I grew tired of hearing old men snoring and librarians telling people how to use the printer.

    The Borders book store was actually a pretty good choice with little pressure to buy anything. But that’s dead now.

    A gallery. Good for the occasional visit but not a place to visit every day.

    The Internet stopped me going mad I’m afraid. That and dreaming up what vibrant public spaces could be like.

  2. Public libraries — of course, they are endangered as well. But seriously, I’ve been to three branches of the Hennepin County Library (that serves Minneapolis and the west and northwest suburbs) in the past couple of weeks and all of them have been hopping.

  3. That’s a brilliant, perceptive and important post. To be bookmarked and thought about.

    It will all result in anger. Possibly new street art forms will appear, like in the 70s with hip-hop. Mix that with Parkour perhaps. Hanging out in the urban environment with no money, using street furniture and hidden parts of buildings in unusual subversive ways.

    But the shock of no money is terrifying. I’ve been in that position in the past. Literally nowhere go to – but at that time, of course, I could still hit book and record stores and browse. As you say, now people can’t do that.

    The answer is for people to join together and turn the urban environment into something new, but it will be kids doing that.

    Curiously, they are doing it now. Many do parkour, others do “urban exploration”, a new underground-type activity in cities.

    There will be a lot of rage, though.

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  5. The libraries are all endangered right now, all across the country. Two years ago, Philadelphia wanted to close its entire system. I don’t know the disposition of that. The last I heard, privatization was being bandied about. In NYC, Billionaire Bloomberg wants to cut $80M+ from the NYPL budget. Basically less than he probably makes in personal interest in one year.

  6. This is something I’ve been pondering for a long time. Think about truly great cities. They all have common areas that were set aside long ago for use by all: Hyde Park, Central Park, the numerous plazas in southern Europe, etc. Those common areas didn’t just spring into being. Visionary leaders and willing citizens made them happen.

    I don’t know what the zeitgeist is elsewhere, but in America we’ve become ridiculously averse to spending tax money on common areas. Propose a plan to set aside space for community use, and you’re a socialist. Advocate full funding for parks and recreation, and you’re not being “realistic”.

  7. Society has degenerated so much that the public commons area are now filled with those who have been allowed to fall out of society: druggies, criminals, and those without homes. They are not the best places to be in even during high noon without getting hit on for change.

  8. You’ve pointed to a related problem, Mike. There in California the voters decided long ago that it was preferable to let the mentally ill out onto the streets. Better that than to pay for their care, right? We reap what we sow.

  9. barbara (kitten)

    Mike, the NY Times article you cited just scared the shit out of me. Thanks.

    I don’t know where people are going to go. Family friendly gamer stores? (my SIL and daughter run one with their 16 and 13 year old kids) I would say that not all comic book stores are awful, but I haven’t been in one in years.


  10. It’s not just the aversion to paying taxes for their care, there was an entire shift towards what they termed “de-institutionalization” during the 1970s and it continues unchallenged to this day. To think that people are better off risking death by exposure or predation versus the safety of an institution tells me those advocating for such alleged “freedom” really despise the people they think they’re helping.