Yesterday was the last day of trading for Borders across the UK. Having shifted most of the remaining books in this month’s closing down sale, it has been filling up the gaps with all manner of tat, including naff jewellery and cheap lines of pottery. Some shops have even been selling off the fixtures and fittings.

It’s a sad, tawdry end to a chain that may not have been as crucial to the cultural life of the nation as Waterstone’s, but which nonetheless had a breezy, young approach, an appealing contemporary offer and a busy events programme, particularly in its children’s departments.

Still, don’t worry – there’s always Amazon. And therein lies the problem. While the US behemoth may not be responsible entirely for Borders’ demise, it has played a significant part. The rise of online shopping and the difficulties facing some bricks-and-mortar retailers are related. You can see how it affects bookshops when you walk past people’s recycling bins and note the familiar packaging and lettering rising like ocean liners (the SS Amazon) amid the flattened boxes of Cheerios. Or when you stand in the post office with your “sorry you were out” card and see person after person in front of you collecting their Amazon boxes (indeed, there are times when it seems that Amazon should buy the Post Office, such is the dominance of its sorting offices). Or when you simply listen to people talk and note how often the word comes up.

Amazon has now become almost synonymous with online shopping. The company is the Hoover of the world wide web, its fame and success responsible for the explosion in online shopping.

We’re all at it now, and not just for books. According to the British Retail Consortium, the internet, mail order and phone sales (of which the bulk must surely be online) were 16.9% higher in November than in the same month last year. “This is more strong growth … and shows online sales growing four times faster than sales overall,” it said.

Yippee. More closed shops. More empty sites. More town centre decay. But the net is so efficient, I hear you say. Yes and no. “Darling, why have we got 111 rolls of bin-liner?” “One hundred and eleven? I’m sure I only ordered one.” Precisely. You shop, we drop you in it.

As broadband increases, as owning a laptop becomes as commonplace as having a kettle, and as the older, pre-net, less computer literate generation passes on to that great recycle bin in the sky, online shopping can only increase. How long before photographs of the Earth from space begin to show our planet resembling a giant @ symbol?

To a certain extent, buying online is now so prevalent that “work” has simply become the place where we go shopping; after all, isn’t this why the “minimise” function on

Windows was developed? Online is now so popular it’s a wonder the big, cheery guy with the red tunic and white beard doesn’t have email. How long before children start texting Father Christmas their lists? (He isn’t on contract, by the way: he’s on sleigh-as-you-go. Look, here come the reindeer now: Dasher, Dotcom, Viral, Prancer, Konami, Cowell, FaceBlitzer …)

It is true that, for the elderly and infirm, for the housebound and for those in remote places or with specialist interests, online is fabulous. Yet for a more urban populace there is a downside, and when you walk past Borders and see the collapsed shelving, you are staring at it. The New Yorker had a telling cover in June 2008. It showed a UPS man delivering an Amazon parcel to a woman at her front door. She lives next to an independent bookshop whose proprietor is just opening up. The pair are looking at each other; one is guilty, the other despairing.

According to Book Marketing Limited, online retail now has nearly 14% of the consumer book market, which may not sound like much until you realise it represents about £395m in sales that didn’t go through bookshop tills. Waterstone’s online presence is growing but it is still Amazon that holds sway because of its massive first mover advantage.

Does it matter? Well, yes, if you want a diverse high street and, besides, whatever happened to a slower, friendlier way of living? When you do your weekly grocery shop online (and make that mistake with the bin-liners), who are you going to bump into? Which little act of kindness are you going to witness, or be given the chance to perform, which reaffirms your humanity? Which good-humoured exchange at the tills are you going to have that demonstrates what you already know: that we are social beings who aren’t meant to live in isolation.

If internet shopping completely takes over, what a phenomenally cold, boring world it will be. Online is solitary, shopping is social. Online can be clumsy, only showing you a screen’s worth at a time. Physical shopping gives you a visually rich, 360-degree, 3-D, tactile, sensory experience – technology has yet to compete with the product-scanning ability of the human eye which never crashes and is always compatible. Also, don’t you just want to leave the house?

Lastly, recession or not, there is surely more to life than price. Cast your mind back. When you met your partner, perhaps there was someone else you liked, too. How did you decide? Did you think: “Now, which one will life be cheaper with?” Oh, you did?

The answer, as with so much of life, is compromise: to spread your money around, deliberately to pay slightly more in a physical shop because they appreciate the sale and because next time you’re down that way you don’t want to see it boarded up. When Amazon sends you those recommendations following previous purchases, no human hand has done this. But when a living, breathing bookseller mentions a book to you “because I remember you liked The Kite Runner”, that means something. It isn’t auto-generated; it’s human kindness. Long may it continue.