Slow Browsing

Window shopping was a fact of life when I lived in Boston. Since I walked everywhere or took public transportation, it was impossible not to peek at the window displays or stop in for a browse at one of the many curious shops on my way to and from work and school. The bookshops of Harvard Square—Raven Books, Harvard Book Store, Grolier Poetry, Globe, Schoenhof’s—were particularly irresistible, but anything from the watch shop on Church Street to the Anthropologie store (set mercilessly behind a three-story wall of glass) could lure me in just as easily.

There were a couple of things, though, that kept me from whiling away my whole life in those perfectly curated shops and breaking the bank on the whole lot of it. First, I was broke, so there’s only a certain amount of time you can stand to spend among small, brightly colored objects that cost more than your grocery bill for the month. Second, I had rule: love it and leave it.

If I found something I really truly absolutely loved and “needed,” I made a special point of admiring it and then promptly leaving the store without it. It was pure anguish, but it was a perfect test. I told myself that if it was still on my mind in a week, I’d come back for it, and if it was still there, well, perhaps it was meant to be.

For the most part, those things I thought I couldn’t live without disappeared within twenty-four hours into my vast mental archive of objects briefly admired but never possessed. The things that stuck were rare and sometimes unexpected. A pair of boots I wore to pieces over several years. A yellow, vintage-looking kitchen timer I never came back for because I was sure I didn’t need it. I’m still sure, but it persists in my memory years later.

I’ve been thinking lately that a similar policy might help with my internet consumption. There are so very many lovely things to read online that I could spend my whole life consuming them, never stopping to let one of them sink in, never returning to being and doing in the world. The ever-changing landscape of the internet lends a sense of urgency to all this. If I don’t read it right now, it might be gone later, I might forget about it entirely, or worse, I might not be able to retrace the winding path of links that led me to it in the first place.

In order to deal with the last fear, I’ve taken to bookmarking articles of interest in Evernote and making an effort to avoid reading every great thing I find on the spot. If it’s really worth my time, I’ll remember it later and come back for it. If not, well, I suppose it disappears then into my digital archive of things briefly admired and never possessed. For what it’s worth, at least the digital archive is searchable, and perhaps I’ve saved myself as much time as I saved money during my student days in a land of beautiful and expensive things.