OF all the things travelling is supposed to teach you, of all the ways it is supposed to change, broaden and expand you, I came back with only one nugget of self-discovery: I hate "stuff".
I have a fear and a contempt for clutter and possessions. Ten months overseas in 10 countries living out of a 16kg backpack taught me that I needed to possess very little to get by. If you can't fit it in your bag, bin it.
This spirit of living lightly seems unwittingly adopted by those who plug into the digital age with such enthusiasm, those who reject buying "things" for buying their virtual equivalent. My peers want no longer to own an impressive CD collection or see their books line walls as wordy insulation. Why buy stacks of CDs when you can connect to the endless jukebox of Spotify or a 10,000-track strong MP3 player.
It's a weird anti-consumerist consumerism. You buy more (100 books) but own less (one Kindle). A phone, say, is a camera, a computer and an MP3 player. All gadgets must multi-task: rare is the occasion you ask for the time and someone consults a watch.
Although I've not yet succumbed to iPods and iPads and Kindles, my refusal to buy a television, thought insanely old fashioned, is just about ahead of its time as young folks join me in watching television on their laptops, rather than on traditional telly boxes.
I wonder if the trend towards being data-heavy and possession-light goes some way to explain the decent demise of HMV and Blockbuster. On a whim, I popped into an HMV last Saturday for the first time in years. Dark, cluttered and deadened, my first thought was: "How will this survive?"
And so the news on Monday that it will not survive caused no surprise. As I wandered around shelves, confused by intermittent discount stickers and nonsensical positioning of CDs, DVDs and T-shirts, I also wondered about bookshops. Will books one day go the way of vinyl? Will there be a time when we have to hunt out specialist bookshops in the same way hipsters forage for record stores?
Even while the digital-only trend beds in, we know to expect a backlash as people survey their two or three sleek, multi-tasking devil boxes and wonder where the colour and magic has gone. Already you can witness these two strands creeping parallel as sales figures show a 1000% increase on sales of digital tablets this Christmas from last and a 44% leap in sales of vinyl records between 2010 and 2011.
HMV suffered badly for failing to expand its online presence and take the digital era seriously. It stuck doggedly to offering a high street experience but neglected to put any effort into making that experience worthwhile or enjoyable for customers. The threat to 4000 jobs is a terrible thing but HMV was no valuable pit stop for music lovers and its loss is not so dreadful in itself. But I wonder if the day will come when we once again want something to hold, to turn over; some sleeves to read.
Soon we'll be moseying along high streets full of pound stores, bookmakers and pawn shops looking for somewhere to buy something tangible and not conjured from thin air.
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