Will you want your parents’ paper books when they pass away?
A recent email from my father, a long-time horologist and antique clock repairman, noted a societal trend that some antiquarians find alarming. Antique clocks currently sell for only about half what they were worth ten years ago, and a number of other types of antique furniture are experiencing the same downturn. My brother pointed out an article on Forbes that discussed the problem.
“This is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did,” [Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM)] notes. “And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity.”
A member of a horology mailing list whose email my father quoted said much the same thing—the younger generation “only need their smart phones and a place to sleep.” He despaired that today’s youth only read the Internet, rather than the magazines he’d grown up with, and worried that when he passed away, his kids would toss out all the antique clocks, radios, tools, and other old things he’d spent his life collecting without a second thought.
There may be more than a touch of “you darned kids, get off my lawn” generational misunderstanding there—after all, the Internet today contains much more material on a broader range of topics than all those old magazines. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong about kids’ lack of attachment to older things. Especially the ones who prefer keeping their reading collection on their phones, tablets, or e-readers.
But what does that portend for the older generation’s collections of books? The Forbes article doesn’t even mention them. Given that ebook adoption seems to have plateaued and plenty of people (even plenty of younger people) still prefer printed books, at least we can say that people might still want those printed books more than they might want antique furniture. There are even new bookstores opening, though there are also those bookstores that are struggling to find a customer base today.
But nothing guarantees that kids will want their parents’ libraries. Maybe they’re among the minority who prefer ebooks. Or maybe they simply don’t have room for their parents’ stuff. With that in mind, it might be a good idea for people with aging parents with lots of books to start thinking ahead of time about how they want to deal with them.
It’s also worth noting that one of the benefits of ebooks is that they don’t take up a lot of space and leave a lot of physical objects around to deal with after you die—though, unfortunately, the current state of digital property laws means that they by and large aren’t considered inheritable, either. (Unless you break those laws by cracking the DRM, of course.)
Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. I’m sure that a century ago, a lot of buggy whips and harness tack ended up on rubbish heaps. And the fact that old things are set aside in favor of new at least means our society is still evolving. But I do find myself hoping that at least some people will still want to keep a few old things around.