Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 1999 /23 Kislev, 5760
Human 'search engines'
TWO SEEMINGLY UNRELATED newspaper stories in
recent days touched on the different ways in which
we may or may not carry out our daily lives in the
The first story -- a business-page article -- was
about how on-line shopping seems to be the future
of the music business. If someone wants a certain
CD, there's no need to go to a store -- just click a
button and it will be delivered to you. You can even
custom-build your own CDs, featuring your favorite
The second story was a brief item in the Tribune's
Inc. column. It was a birthday item: Bob Koester
had turned 67 years old.
When I first came to Chicago, Bob Koester was one
of my planned destinations. Not the man -- he didn't
know me and I didn't know him. But his store -- the
Jazz Record Mart -- was famous all over the
country. It wasn't widely advertised or smoothly
promoted, but the word spread among people who
loved music: If you ever get to Chicago, you have to
go to the Jazz Record Mart.
Even the directions were told from one person to the
next, like a secret code (at least it seemed like
secret code if you lived in a small town far from
Chicago): Get off the subway at State and Grand,
climb up the stairs, and you're there.
I followed the directions -- and there it was. The
Jazz Record Mart (it was at 7. W. Grand then,
moved later to 11 W. Grand, and is now at 444 N.
Wabash) was the definition of ramshackle -- but
what a place for music. You didn't go in there with
any specific purchase in mind -- you just went in to
immerse yourself in the store. Koester was usually
there (he seemed like a legendary old music man full
of the wisdom of the ages the day I first walked in;
the way I figure it now, he was all of 33), and he
would answer your questions and give you
suggestions. He knew everything -- he was the
founder of the Delmark record label, he produced
music as well as sold it, and you could stay for hours
in that store, just taking it all in.
Which brings us to today. On-line shopping is
without question convenient -- log on, point, click,
and the UPS driver will bring you what you wanted.
But what if you didn't know what you wanted?
What if you thought you wanted a particular record
-- but would have been made happier by a record
you didn't even know existed?
That's the difference between a computer screen
and a place like the Jazz Record Mart. A screen in
your home will never make you feel like a store with
textures and idiosyncrasies of its own -- and on your
screen you are much less likely to find something
better than what you thought you desired.
This is true not just in shopping. You can see it in the
new, heavily advertised on-line version of the
Encyclopaedia Britannica, which finally seems to be
up and running after initial demand overloaded its
I've tried it -- and I'm underwhelmed. You type the
subject in which you're interested, and the on-line
Britannica puts the information on your screen. It's
free, supported by advertising -- Britannica had to go
this route because there was no longer much of a
market for big, expensive, multivolume
But the hardcover encyclopedias that filled long
bookshelves -- the ones that allegedly are
anachronisms now -- were very much like the Jazz
Record Mart: What made them so enriching was not
just that they had what you were looking for, but that
they had what you weren't looking for. You could
open up the "L" volume of the encyclopedia, looking
for, say, information about the Louvre, and end up
fascinated by something else you happened upon
while on your way to the Louvre's page. It was the
journey through the encyclopedia that could be so
great, not the final destination.
The parallels here are not exact -- you can, of
course, find unexpected delights on your computer
screen, too. But in the computer age, everything is
designed to be search-engine-driven -- type what
you desire into the search engine, hit the button, and
have just what you want delivered in an instant or
What makes life the most fun, though, is when you
are your own search engine -- when you wander
through the world in search of pleasures you don't
even know are there. Whether they are in Bob
Koester's record store or in a dusty volume on a
bookshelf, those pleasures encountered almost by
mistake are often the ones that change your life for
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
11/30/99: Here's looking at you -- now hand over the cash
11/23/99: Who'll say 'I'm sorry' to the other Decatur students?
11/18/99: "From bad things, good can come"
11/16/99: The man who didn't know the meaning of 'whatever'
11/12/99: Is this progress? We have made the weekend obsolete
11/09/99: Today he would probably be called Kyle Kramden
11/04/99: And you thought the IRS was heartless
11/02/99: When it's free, what will the real price be?
10/29/99: The tissue-thin decisions that define who we are
10/26/99: One way to cut road rage down to size
10/22/99: Asking all the right questions takes a special pitch
10/18/99: The signs are talking to you; Are you listening?
10/12/99: Even Capone would be disgusted
10/08/99: Don't ever look your neighborhood bear in the eye
10/06/99: Land of the free and marketplace of the brave
10/04/99: German warplanes in
09/30/99: While you fret, something is sneaking up on you
09/28/99: In these busy times, why not bring back a certain buzz?
09/24/99: The storms whose paths no one can track
09/21/99: Who's minding the store? Oh . . . never mind
09/17/99:Here's another place where you can't smoke
09/14/99: As certainly as `lovely Rita' follows `when I'm 64' . . .
09/09/99: Why is patience no longer a virtue?
09/07/99: Once upon a time, in an airport close to you . . .
09/03/99: The answers? They are right in front of us
09/01/99: Up the creek with a paddle--and cussing up a storm
08/30/99: $1 Million Question: How'd we get to be so stup-d?
08/27/99: Fun and games at Camp Umbilical Cord
08/25/99: How life has been changed by the woodpecker effect
08/23/99: If you don't like this story, blame the robot who wrote it
08/20/99: A four-letter word that has helped both Bob and Rhonda
08/18/99: They have picked the wrong country
08/16/99: From paperboy to stalker--how the news has changed
08/12/99: Why wasn't anyone watching his brothers?
08/10/99: Come to think of it, stars seldom are the retiring type
08/05/99: The national gaper's block is always jammed
07/29/99: 'Can you imagine the gift you gave me?'
07/27/99: A view to a kill -- but is this really necessary?
07/23/99: Some cream and sugar with your turbulence?
07/21/99: When your name is JFK jr., how do you choose to use it?
07/19/99: The real world is declared not real enough
07/15/99: The real victims of cruel and unusual punishment
07/13/99: A 21st Century idea for schools: log off and learn
07/09/99: Are life's sweetest mysteries still around the bend?
07/07/99: Of great minds, cream cheese and Freddy Cannon
07/02/99: The perfect spokesman for the American way
06/30/99: 'He's 9 years old . . . he trusts people'
06/28/99: A $581 million jackpot in the courthouse casino
06/25/99: A nighttime walk to a House that feels like a cage
06/23/99: At least give men credit for being more morose
06/18/99: On Father's Day, a few words about mothers
06/16/99: If work is a dance, how's
your partner doing?
06/14/99: Should a dictionary ever tell you to keep quiet?
06/10/99: A story of Sex, the SuperBowl and your wife
06/07/99: Take a guess where "California Sun" is from
06/03/99: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
06/01/99: Putting your money where their mouths are
05/27/99: Pressed between wooden covers, the summer of her life
05/25/99:The lingering song of a certain summer
05/24/99:We could all use a return to the Buddy system
05/20/99: Now, this is enough to make James Bond double-0 depressed
05/17/99: It's midnight -- do you know where your parents are?
05/13/99: And now even saying "thank you" creates a problem
05/11/99: The answer was standing at the front door
©1999, Tribune Media Services