Today I heard that one of my favorite bookstores from my earlier life in New England is closing its doors. It was a specialty bookstore, providing books in languages other than English, and will carry on online, but the store itself will be gone.
My reaction to this news showed me what an important form of curiosity browsing is to me. The 21st century version of browsing includes going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, for example, and has charms of its own, but for me it will never compete with walking into a space designed for browsing, where you can put your hands on a book, and dip into that book easily. Amazon tries to provide this feeling with its “Look inside” function, but I find that singularly frustrating and can never really get an idea of what a book is like that way.
In my opinion, when it comes to books the internet is great if you already have a title in mind. You can get what you specifically want quickly, easily, and sometimes more cheaply. (No wonder those brick-and-mortar stores are struggling!) However, it is not great for finding out in a roundabout, enriching, surprising, curious way what is out there. It’s rather like GPS compared to maps.