This is the story of an antiquarian bookstore in the final days of the demise of the book. It takes place not in the future, but in a slightly different version of the present day, one in which electronic books read on little hand-held devices replaced the printed page quickly and triumphantly, with hardly a whimper of regret from book lovers.
Impossible? Not at all. Books simply vanished, and people were not particularly sorry to see them go. There was no whining about how a pocket-sized computer could never replace the delicious sensation of holding a real book. No eulogies were spoken on the occasion of the death of the publishing industry. Reporters filed perfunctory reports as bookstores closed, but no one mobilized to save them.
Before you summon your outrage, consider this: the book had a nice long run compared to, say, recorded music. It only took a century to get from wax cylinders to digital downloads. By that standard, books have seriously overstayed their welcome.
So for the purposes of our story, try to imagine that people loved reading on a little hand-held computer. They didn't mind ridding their homes of bookshelves; most people didn't have bookshelves anyway, and those who did found that they gained, on average, an extra fifty square feet of living space, which seemed like a smart move in today’s real estate market.
As for bookstores, they went the way of vinyl record stores. A few survived, and hardcore collectors dropped by to pick over the ever-dwindling supply. Booksellers had been banking on the belief that no one would ever improve upon ink and paper, but when a kid from Cupertino finally did it, everyone but the booksellers were perfectly delighted.
How was this possible? A Silicon Valley start-up rolled out the one brilliant device that did everything: phone, camera, music, books, web, email. It acted as your credit card, your home security alarm system, and it unlocked your car. You could use it as a blood pressure monitor, calorie counter, tire gauge, mosquito zapper and a hand warmer on cold mornings. If you got lost, it would direct you back to safety and read you a story on the way.
And they called it a Gizmo, which was a charming name, but over time most people just started referring to it as their phone. It was the only kind of phone people had anymore, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to call it anything special. The Gizmo was lightweight, elegant, and intuitively simple to use. The screen was as easy to read as paper and worked at all light levels.