By: Adrian Smith
Because so much of our lives exists online these days, it’s hard to find quiet time away from the web. For many, there are days when most communication takes place online. This has prompted Liberia, a new bookshop in London, to place a ban on customers using mobile devices (phones, tablets etc.) within their shop. In an attempt to rejuvenate the lost art of real life, person-to-person conversation, this bookshop calls itself a ‘digital detox zone’—encouraging people to take part in the pleasure you get from physically reading books cover-to-cover and appreciating their look and feel.
If guests are caught texting, chatting on the phone or browsing the web from a mobile device, Liberia staff gently ask that they stop—instead of actually kicking them out. The bookshop isn’t interested in enforcing the rule too strictly, but they would like to craft an old-fashioned, welcoming space away from digital and social media. The goal is for this bookshop to remain a place where people can sit and bounce ideas off each other, share opinions and spark debate, without mobile screens and digital distractions. In hopes of keeping people off their phones, Liberia will include in-depth seminars and workshops, as well as live performances. For example, at a recent event the bookshop invited guests to “swig and sniff” through 20th century fiction for a night. Customers sampled the drinks described in excerpts written by authors like Raymond Chandler and Patrick Hamilton and the scents described in the passages being read were also passed across the room to provide a naturally immersive feel.
Liberia feels the popular notion that print culture is finished is only a myth, and a study done by the Association of America shows they aren’t wrong in their belief. According to the study, e-book sales have dipped down 10% between January and May of 2015. This data is collected from 1,200 publishers worldwide. I find when it comes to book shopping, it’s the unexpected discoveries—finding an author you’ve always heard about but never looked for, or getting an on-the-spot recommendation through good conversation, that makes the experience fulfilling. The laser point precision of online shopping takes away from the organic experience of browsing for books. Understanding this is something felt by most book lovers, and staff at Liberia have grouped together books to display more open themes, instead of shelving books by traditional genres. They’ve found this helps people make decisions based more on connections instead of categories. People are able to broaden their reading scope by picking up a book based on common ideas and themes instead of by ‘Victorian Literature’ or ‘Romantic Poetry.’ This is a really cool concept that I believe other bookstores and bookshops should think about adopting. In this digital era, we find ourselves easily distracted from our present experience because of our obsession with staying connected. Inviting, instead of enforcing, customers to unplug—especially in a welcoming environment like Liberia might prompt us to put our phones away once in a while.