The third dimension: Why Amazon just opened a bookstore

In all honesty, I don’t know why Amazon just opened a physical bookstore in Seattle.

Maybe they want to drive the last remaining independent bookstores out of business by stealing their employees. Maybe it’s a memorial to commemorate the form of brick-and-mortar retail the online corporation has been so successful in destroying — a nostalgic return designed to remind customers of its own obsolesce.

On the other hand, this could be a semi-conscious token recognition that online is not in all ways expansive. It’s not just bigger, faster, cheaper, better.

The price of using a screen is that through its surface we step away from three-dimensional space.

Although the physical internet exists in three-dimensional space, we can only connect through a two-dimensional display.

Even though the tool for navigating through digital space has traditionally been called a browser, a screen marshals attention in ways that physical browsing does not.

Wandering around a bookstore, scanning titles along bookshelves and leafing through pages, are physical actions that can only take place in physical space. And that space has fuzzy boundaries.

When we examine a book in our hands, we can feel its weight, see the font style and size, the quality of the binding, open pages at random and engage with this physical object in a much richer and more complex way than through a digital window.

This physicality points to an even more basic disjunction between corporeal existence and digital activity.

However entwined our lives have become with electronic devices, we remain creatures confined at any one moment to one place in the universe.

Increasingly, however, our lives are disconnected from where we are. People come together and then their phones step between them.

We are forever being beckoned to be some place else.

The end of all our exploring may never come if we fail to return where we started.

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