Guriel laments the dying pleasure of sailing – Winnipeg Free Press

“I’m just sailing.”

It’s a pretty simple phrase, the one most people used when poking around a favorite bookstore or music store while deliberating.

But it’s much more than a delaying tactic, writes Toronto writer Jason Guriel in About browsingthe fifth in the series Field Notes from the publisher (and bookseller) Biblioasis of Windsor.

About browsing

Browsing is many things: a lifestyle, a relaxation, an eye-opener if your search finds a long-sought-after book or a rare recording, and perhaps most importantly a refreshing excursion into a world of search options and instant online shopping.

Guriel, a lifelong navigator, wrote this booklet of essays while housebound during the COVID pandemic and reduced to scrolling, with no access to his beloved physical media and the combined thrills of holding a book in your hand while your brain processes the word value within it.

He recounts his early forays into Blockbuster Video for movies on VHS and DVD tapes, and later how he and his friends would take long subway rides to downtown Toronto to prowl Sam the Record Man and HMV for auditory delights.

But, he adds, they didn’t need the scrolling speed, algorithmic assistance and instant access, even though they might have welcomed them as conveniences.

“We needed that long metro ride downtown. We needed sobering disappointments and sporadic wins.

Scrolling has made the whole process of looking up music in a book and then going to a record store to buy it obsolete, writes Guriel.

“Who needs all that wandering through bulky cities with bargain companions?”

While pandemic shutdowns have forced many storefronts to close and reduced many recalcitrant browsers to scrollers, “the scroll age had already long pushed the era of off-screen browsing,” laments the author.

“You don’t ‘browse’ the Internet. You don’t move around there… There are no alleys, no vistas, no long views”, explains Guriel.

He remembers the heyday of record stores like Sam the Record Man and the joy of strolling there.

“Unlike the algorithms, Sam’s carbon-based clerks didn’t necessarily care about your preferences, because they knew what was good for you.”

Guriel says he’s not immune to the pleasures of a smartphone or the convenience of streaming. In fact, scrolling revealed useful material for this book.

However, he suggests ways to limit the use of digital, to slow down, to support physical retailers.

“Most of the time I try to slow down, which was actually the advantage of old-school navigation in the first place.”

Beyond a certain age, not everyone will miss Guriel’s idyllic version of sailing, but they will remember it.

And it may just put a smile on their face between choosing an item online and paying.

Chris Smith is a writer from Winnipeg.

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