Tastemaker: Commonplace Books

I am too cool for Tumblr. Even so, it’s hard to resist the impulse to collect all the awesome stuff I come across in my Internet perambulations. Herein lies the dilemma: If I’m too cool for Tumblr, the next logical step might be to turn to Pinterest or a similar service, but because I’m too cool for Tumblr, then I’m ipso facto too cool for Pinterest. What’s an intellectual polyglot like me to do these days?

The answer lies, I think, in a physical artifact: the commonplace book. Just about nobody knows what these are ca. 2012—that’s why they’re cool, of course—but they were pretty big back in the days of horse-driven carriages and Jane Austen, when she wasn’t dead yet. Many people use social media today basically the same way people used to use commonplace books, which were essentially scrapbooks for collecting the turns of phrase, lines of dialogue, nifty quotes, and whatever else inspired and resonated with them. Cool stuff.

Not sold yet? Think about how much more solid and tactilely pleasing a book is than a Tumblr or Pinterest. A hypothetical scene: Your friend says, “Hey, you should check out my [generic social media apparatus].” Nonplussed, you silently—ominously—remove an elephantine, gilt-edged leather bound tome from your otherwise impoverished shelf across the room and drop it on his or her Macbook. Books are more better than Tumblrs, Q.E.D.

Plus, all the coolest people used commonplace books: Mark Twain, Darwin’s grandpa, 19th-c. Harvard undergrads (our ancestors!), and that guy who wrote “Paradise Lost”—Tom Milton or something. Who uses Tumblr? Zooey Deschanel, adolescent girls who want to be Zooey Deschanel, college girls who are secretly deep down still adolescent girls who want to be Zooey Deschanel, et al.

The only thing that Tumblr-ites have over commonplace folk is the whole digital sharing thing. Luckily, we have scanners now so you can upload pages of your book to share with the world. I acknowledge, however, that there does exist another pressing argument against reverting to analog, viz., it’s pretty tough to include videos and .gifs in your book. My riposte: You could always make a flipbook.

It’s a win-win situation: Ditch the Tumblr. And if that doesn’t work out, at least you’ll finally have something to blog about.