The Demise of Shelf-Surfing

Whenever I first visit someone’s house I can’t stop myself from shelf-surfing. What books do you have? What CDs? It’s not me being nosy — okay, it is — but it’s something I can help myself from doing. I love knowing what other people are reading, and, to a lesser extent, what music they are listening to.
But it’s getting tougher, especially in CDs, as this Boston Globe piece points out:

It used to be easier to judge people unfairly. A cursory scan of their record collection revealed secrets. Telltale copies of REO Speedwagon’s ”Hi Infidelity” were known to wither budding relationships overnight. Soul-deep conversation and physical attraction could not compensate for the nagging doubt planted by ”Frampton Comes Alive.” ”I must have been really drunk at the time” did not explain away Air Supply’s ”Greatest Hits.”
By the late 1980s, CDs began to overtake vinyl, and cover art shrank, making closer inspection or sharper eyesight necessary. Now, the popularity of Apple’s iPod has further accelerated the disappearance of visual clues to who might be compatible or, at least, safe. Getting next to a 1.67-inch backlit screen requires cooperation or intimacy, and where’s the fun in that?


  1. Here’s a “solution”:
    Bring your laptop. Mount his iTunes library with you iTunes. Stream his music back to his Airport Express.
    This way you don’t just look at his music, you listen to it.

  2. I once made a video of my local cult video store’s VHS shelf collection (row after row). It was supposed to be a labour-saving thing. I just ended up watching the video over and over, because I couldn’t decide on what I wanted to watch.