Once a year (or maybe twice – but that’s not so important) I place a biiig order online. Huge, not big. I usually buy books from online retailers, CDs, and movies, part as gifts for my loved ones on holiday seasons, part as gifts for me. I love doing that. I just fill the cart with items from my wish lists, check them for availability (I want them shipped faster), chose the address, the courier and hit enter after billing info. I am probably one of their “fattest” customers but probably one if their least predictable in its buying behaviors. Their business intelligence engine must be mad on me. I imagine those BI lemmings getting frantic when my name is queued on the delivery list. They have to assess the relationship between Raymond Chandler (crimes ?), Iain Banks (virtual fantastic impossibilities?), Ravi Shankar (esoteric music ?), Chet Baker (cool sounds of the ’50s) and J.J. Cale (a melange of styles of its own) seasoned with some tough SAP hardcore reading, spiced with some books on Android mobile development and Java SDK, everything stuffed in a thick broth of movies from “Fight Club” to “Film Noir” through”Casablanca” and “Maltese Falcon”. I probably have such a weird buyer profile that their segmentation gurus don’t even dare to recommend me anything else anymore once their rate of success tends abruptly to zero. They probably party for days when they hit me with something that matches one of my cravings.
But this is their problem, not mine. I am a consumer of books and other multimedia goodies. I order and buy them online because my job leaves me little time to stroll the shops and even so, I hardly find those things that I usually buy from online retailers. Last week I tried to get my hands on some SAP reference books that I need and I went to a reputable retailer that told me it will take a month, cash down in advance to get “such rare books” on order. I went mad. I went mad at the price too: twice the MSRP and almost 1.5 over those on most online stores. And, my Lord, A MONTH ??
This is why I hit the net. And the online retailers. At least I can get whatever I want in a quickly way. If I chose wisely, I might even have them overnight and this is important when I am in rush, as I am right now. I will probably never buy toys like Kindle. I agree, they have their fun and the possibility of taking with you a zillion books is appealing. But I fear that most of these features – although real – are, in fact, marketing gimmicks that are designed to make all these gadgets sell well, but hardly very useful in a practical context. The fun with electronic format – from my point of view – is the search and indexing which makes it very useful for research and academic writing. Imagine the speed increase when one can actually search the same term (or expression) throughout 20 or 50 papers. But even so, I still prefer the old-fashioned format. The low tech is more appealing for me. It smells better, it feels better and you can read even by the fireplace if you don’t have electricity.
Ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit. However… What’s the point of this post in my blog ?
During all these years, I have met a lot of people that were surprised to the brink of envy by “the achievements I made in my years and the knowledge I gathered”. I am very often asked whether there are any things that I do not know how to do. Aside from the obvious flatter in these words, the bottom line is that I am quite a normal guy, with an average IQ and I do not consider that I had too much of achievements during all these decades. The most funny fact is that I got this feedback from individuals that, from a material point of view, achieved much, much more than me. On the other hand I have to admit that I can, actually, perform professionally in a wide array of crafts. But the point here is that none of these skills came out of the blue and, during the years, I had to spend a lot of time and energy to achieve a certain level of competence that would allow me to perform. None of these were possible without losing nights, studying for hours, days and weeks, trying, making A LOT of mistakes, bumping my head, falling and getting up again. Reading was part of this too. I come from a generation that was not born surrounded by LCD flattops and plasma TVs. I had the chance (I wish this could be understood by the younger ones) to have a lot of books and to use my imagination to build the worlds I was reading about in my mind, I did not do that with a computer. The TV did not offer much and it was much less interesting than a good read. During the breaks that I made, my mind went away and built connexions by its own effort, not taken by granted from a platter where they are served by a generous software. Reading made me think, it did not kill my imagination with generic look and feel. Reading obliged me to think because I had to build concepts with my brain, and not to extract them from a display. And all the achievements I might’ve accomplished are the gift of this process.
This did not change too much. Buying books and READING them is part of my so called “success” (BS !) that some envy so much. Instead of losing time and killing health in front of some stupid computer games, I chose to read, sometimes more than one book at a time. My academic background is not the lone culprit for this “parallel reading”: I have never read one book at a time, not even in childhood. Usually there were at least three books I read in parallel. I kept this habit over the years and now I know it was a good thing to do because I avoided over saturation of my brain and fixation on one subject. Anyone could easily get bored by routine, by same activity, by same book. For me there were always at least three areas of interest: a professional one (school or job related), the hobby, the skill advancement (right now, for example, I’m focused on mobile application development on Android Platform) and the utter leisure (trivia, crime, fiction etc). The performance of absorbing information by this method is incredible. On one hand I never got tired of reading. When I got bored (it happened) by a read I switched to something else, after a short break. This kept my mind alert and focused on the subject[s]. And whatever happened, with all costs, I always finished the readings. I have never had a single situation when I left a book unread to its end. (in the latter years I also watch soap operas when I am extremely tired, but this is another story).
In time, all these summed up to knowledge and competence. I read during the day, I read during the breaks, during my way home in the vehicles of public transportation. I read on evenings and at night. Even now I never go to sleep earlier that 1 a.m. I always have something to do: a one-hour course for my job, online. Or a class in my Eclipse Android test application / tutorial. Or 20 pages from a book. Or. Something. Anything. I always spend my evenings and part of my nights (and of my sleep too) gathering knowledge. And if you think I’m stupid or weird, or if you don’t understand why it is so important, please take my word that all this gave me the power of choosing my way in life.
Being knowledgeable empowers you: you can choose the path your footsteps will carry you by your wish and will. It raises you up if you fall. It opens perspectives. It shapes your life.
So next time when you will wonder (and call me stupid because I am buying books), remember what I’ve just told you in this post. Just stop wondering and think. Use your brain and think about the reasons of your envies. Be a human, try to make a sense. You will find out the answers to your questios in the pages of all books I bought and read. Stop a while from your daily rush and take some time for your mind. Half an hour each day might be sufficient, for starters. But do it. Do not complain that you don’t have time. Do not try to find excuses and blame your job responsibilities and late hours when you get home for your lack in appetite for creating some quality time for you. Think about those hours you loose in the evening sitting speachless in front of your TV watching some stupid news and brainwashing yourself. Replace those hours with reading. Feeding your mind is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. As much as you care for what you eat, you can do the same with what you put in your mind. And don’t ever question the importance of this endeavour.
All best things in life are [almost] free. And books require less from your pocket than any useless gizmo you bought over the years. They stand quietly on your cupboards waiting for your eyes. And the best thing is that they don’t ever need batteries.