Culture, Info Tech

When I was in college I took a year off and backpacked around Asia for a while. I’m glad I did it then, since it is a lot more expensive to travel in that part of the world now. I was able to live for about $5 a day, $7 if you average in transportation costs. What limited me wasn’t the cost of travel, but weight. The very first day I got off the plane in Hong Kong I realized that my books would have to go. Books are small, but dense. Sort of like carrying around a neutron star in your backpack. I’d brought about eight books to read, and I had to pair it down to two: my Lonely Planet and a copy of Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Both were pretty hefty books, but necessary for the long train rides I’d be taking.

I soon discovered that I wouldn’t miss my other books at all. You see, there are thousands of other backpackers trotting around Asia, and they all have the same problem. So, when you are done with one book it isn’t too hard to find someone willing to trade! I forget what crap I traded The Magic Mountain for — but that book then got me Anna Karenina. And the Lonely Planet guide for China was well-traded for the Pakistan Handbook somewhere along the Karakoram Highway. But I always wondered, what happened to those books afterwards? Where did they go? As they got traded from one traveler to another, what would happen to them? Some I imagine got used in purely functional ways by desperate travelers, while others might have ended up in a used bookstore in Penang… Well, now there is a way to find out!!! Not those books of course, but any book you decide to read and then sell, trade, or give to a friend. A new service called gives you a unique number to put on the inside front cover of your book, and allows you to track it on the internet. A great idea.

I never saw it, but the movie Twenty Bucks used such a gimmick, following a single bill as it crossed several lives. Recently I received a bill with a URL on it, but I paid for something with the bill before I got a chance to go to the web site and register it. But you’d think people would hold on to books a little longer and be more likely to register them online…