I came into the world with boundless curiosity. When I was a kid I wanted to know everything about everything, and would read vociferously. I wanted to know all there was to know about the world around me, so I would save up my money to buy books that the local Bay Ridge bookstore would order for me, and in my first experience with debt, joined all the book clubs then advertising in the Times Book Review. I would go to Times Square to a store that used to carry newspapers from cities all over the country as well a foreign publications. I knew what the names of the newspapers were in every city and what they were like, and what were the leading European magazines. I would write to companies to get their annual reports, and amassed a huge collection of them in file cabinets. I would also take the subway to the central New York library branch for information I otherwise couldn’t get. I wanted to know.
I began to write file cards about news and information, but given how much there was that proved to be unwieldy, and impossible to maintain. That was my first experience with information overload. Given these predispositions over the years I subscribed to a large number of magazines covering a wide range of subjects. But as they were too numerous they inevitably would accumulate in unread piles. First they started to pile up in my parents’ basement, and subsequently in the garage of my summer house. I still maintained the notion that I would go back and read them at some point, and sometimes did so in spurts, when something caught my interest.
That all began to change somewhat with the arrival of the Internet, as in the early years I could now go to university sites to get information, and more and more publications began to appear on line. At the same time magazines, like newspapers, began to disappear or survived with a fraction of the thickness they once had. So it became easier to cut back on subscriptions, which, coupled with an aversion to the increasingly atrocious and sloppy writing as well as presumably “serious” articles laced with profanity, coupled with a now-rigid uniform ideology in the remaining mainstream general interest publications. On the other hand my mailbox is now filled up with all kinds of information sources, making it tedious to go through email every day, but that is another story.
But today I had a sort of epiphany as I resolutely decided to dump all the magazines filling shelves in the garage as it finally registered within me that I would never get to read through them all. I found that depressing but at the same time recognized the futility of keeping periodicals going back over decades. Tomorrow being paper recycling day here I began to go through them, and if something grabbed my interest I still set it aside and/or kept a few for archival purposes, but otherwise filled up boxes and garbage cans with hundreds upon hundreds of magazines, or set those of some value aside to give to the church sale. There was everything from National Geographic, Natural History, Astronomy and science, to Wired and news magazines as well as many various specialized and technical publications, disproportionately British, because their magazines are so much better than ours. There were titles I’ve seen selling well on eBay but I didn’t want to bother with the hassle of posting and selling so they simply got tossed.
In this process I could see the passage of time and how things have changed over the years as events have transpired and people have come and gone, as well as how many things are still the same, human nature being reliably immutable. However, I am keeping my huge collection of science fiction and fantasy magazines going back to the very first issues, but I’ve decided to limit them to the time before and just past my adolescence so that it doesn’t become too big to manage, and in any case I don’t care much for what passes for SF these days and I think it is basically over. There are still over 10,000 books around but unless they are rare, signed, leather-bound, first editions, or aren’t available electronically many of those will be going too.
For some time now I have realized that despite being widely well-read, it is impossible to ever know everything, and for that matter to really know anything, as I have come to realize the truth of what Socrates meant when he said “I know nothing.”