Last week I talked about how we’ve reached the point where, increasingly, digital connection IS human connection. And, while that is true, it also goes without saying that there will never be a substitute for real-life, in-the-flesh, honest-to-god personal touchpoints – physically sharing the same space with someone. That’s part of what makes us human, and I don’t think it’s going to change for a very, very long time.
And so, even though I’m a digital evangelist who’s building a web-based tool to discover and connect with book collectors worldwide, I will always promote getting out into the real world and meeting up with the connections you make whenever possible.
That’s exactly what I did this past weekend.
I spent 11 hours on Saturday driving all around the state to get in the same room with some of the people I’ve met so far while working on this project. The images for this post come from my first stop, Paul’s Book Store in Madison, Wisconsin. When I was just starting this project about six weeks ago, I had the idea to snap a few pics and document every book shop, library, and personal collection I visited, and then use those images to add a nice visual element to many of the articles I write on this site.
Paul’s was the shop I visited on literally my first day of doing this, and it produced what I think is going to be the one iconic image that comes out of this project. Here it is:
I was walking through the store, taking some of the pictures you’ll see on this page, when I passed by the shop owner sitting by the desk with her dog. I asked her if I could take a picture, and she said sure. I snapped two quick ones, glanced at the phone, thought one was decent, and went along my way. When I got home to Milwaukee later that day and looked at the images I had, this one stood out to me. After a little bit of mobile phone filter magic and color editing, I thought I had a really nice Norman-Rockwell-esque portrait of what we love to see in our old book shops.
I also used the image on the “On Location” page of this site, and then I decided to take it one step further: I wanted to blow it up and get it framed, so that the next time I passed by Madison (1.5 hours away), I’d be able to walk back into the shop and give a personalized gift to the owner – something I think she’d both love and never expect to receive.
The framed picture sat on my little dining room paperback table for just over a month until I had a reason to head out Madison way again. That reason appeared when I got an invitation to go visit a rare book collector on the western side of the state, and I figured I’d make a quick stop at Paul’s Book Store to drop off the gift. (I did have to make a terribly awkward call first to verify that the shop owner would be there, and stammered my way through the reasoning on the phone, trying to verify that she would in fact be there without sounding like Mr. Creepy Stalker guy – I had no desire to walk in and be greeted by a burly security officer.)
I’ll tell you one of the things I like about the book business, as opposed to the digital marketing business I’ve been involved in for the past decade: you always have somewhere interesting to go. It’s not just some big faceless corporation you’re working for – there are so many hidden little nooks and crannies all over the country where you can connect with people who love books . . . at their shops, at libraries, in their homes, etc. I love it!
I arrived at Paul’s on State Street in Madison right around lunchtime and popped into the shop. The owner was sitting right in the same spot, with her dog lying next to her. “Right where I left you!” I exclaimed, like I was in a bad sitcom. She was less than impressed, I think. But when I told her why I was there and pulled the picture out of my bag for her, she was all smiles, and so was the other guy (Jack) working the counter. We had a nice little conversation, I learned that her name is Caryl Askins (spelled the proper way, mind you), and when I looked her up just now while writing this piece I found some more detail about her life and her shop.
I then walked out onto State Street to sit on a bench and eat the little lunch I had packed, while people-watching the confluence of University of Wisconsin-Madison students, state capital politicians, shoppers, and weekend lazy-day-ers passing by.
Afterwards I continued my drive another couple hours west to go meet with a high-end private collector, but the details of that story are for another time.
For the moment, I’d just like to repeat that there is no substitute for IRL (in real life) personal interaction, and that’s still the end goal of this whole project. A number of people have said that I’m trying to build another buying/selling platform, but that’s not the point. It’s all about discovery and connection, which leads to knowledge exchange, which leads to personal relationships, which then leads to buying and selling.
In a few weeks when there’s a working beta on Collector Directory you’ll see exactly what I mean, and how this tool can transform the way we connect with new people in our topics of interest. Until then, I’ll continue to practice what I preach: using digital tools to find the right people with whom to build a personal relationship . . . including the occasional unexpected gift. That’s the good stuff in life. :)