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ScannersThe electronic scanners hover over the ragged environment, tormenting the throng of mere humans confined by their limited visual boundaries. Slowly moving among the masses, their massive cargo containers barring free movement of personnel and ideas, the scanners’ rapid beeps underscore the powerlessness of the people.

It wasn’t always like this. Before the scanners showed up we could forage in peace. Sure, we competed against ourselves for the gems, the favored tomes of wisdom, the exceptional windows into intellectual freedom. Every so often competing interests would lead to conflict, the arguments over who saw what first. But mostly the competition was respectful, tempered by the knowledge that we all had the same lofty goals.

The change-over was slow at first. A solo scanner hanging over the crowd; not much of a bother, somewhat of a novelty even, something new envied in its simplicity and effectiveness. But then, unnoticed in our complacency, the scanners started showing up everywhere. Annoyance quickly turned to fear as their containers began routinely blocking access, their habits became more disruptive, their attitudes took on the feel of mercenaries caring little about anyone and anything as they focused completely on their targets. Profit alone drove their actions, not intellectual stimulation. Not even the titles mattered, merely the differential between personal cost and revenue, net yield the only motivation.

Even this profit motive could be borne by us mere foragers. Then the scanners completely abandoned all human understanding. Not content with scanning and moving on, they started discarding randomly. Scanned books were tossed haphazardly into piles. No longer could us apparently outdated sight-buyers skim along the line of literary spines to find preferred titles or authors. Boxes carefully organized by library staff now looked like battlefields from the Civil War books they contained. Each book would need to be manually moved to see what it was about; each box reorganized just to read the titles. And then the next scanner would arrive and reorganization to clean up their tailings would have to start again. And again.

The days of library book sales were much simpler before arrival of the scanners.

[Note: Inspired by a recent trip to my local library book sale in which people with scanners attached to their smart phones were grabbing hundreds of books without even looking at the titles.]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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