Moon  The mouse on the mat
By Marie Lebert, 21 December 2016.
“Moon” is a collection of six timeless short stories, which are related, in one way or another, to the book. Here is the sixth short story, translated from French by Jane Golding.
Nicholas and Morpheus were now working in the most high-tech city in the world. Since the changeover from paper to computer screens, libraries were beginning to broaden their horizons, and their beige or grey walls were gradually being replaced with digital screens.
The printed books, however, still had to stay lined up on the shelves, and some of them were subjected to an appalling lack of air. From time to time, people witnessed some amazing scenes. Once, a reader, seeing his desired book suffocating, squashed irretrievably between two fat books full of stupidities, went so far as to arm himself with his wooden-handled umbrella to eject the object of his desire and set it free. This freedom was still provisional, unfortunately, until the book could be registered at the loans desk and tucked safely into the reader’s rucksack.
Enthusiastic readers could be seen sweating buckets because of the effort required to extract a book in similar conditions, but this time from the top shelves. In extreme cases, the reader would be catapulted towards the opposite shelf. In the very worst cases, the shelf opposite would wobble and fall, and once again the librarian would have to pick everything up and reclassify it; more proof, if it were needed, that technology can’t solve all the problems.
Moreover, it wasn’t just the readers who were doing battle with books that were too tightly packed, but also the librarians, because they had to take out whole rows of books, row by row, put these rows in piles and add them to databases.
Everyone in the profession worshipped the databases. All the libraries wanted them, in all regions of the world. Even if they had worked day and night, Morpheus, Nicolas and the others would have found it hard to keep up the pace, as the pace had become so rapid in an attempt to keep everyone happy.
At first, it was not easy to create the databases, then enter all the books in these databases, forcing them a bit if necessary. Sometimes the databases jammed up the computers, and vice-versa, so the system didn’t work very well, or not at all. Books would fall over in horror at the mere mention of the database, even before they had even been entered into the machine, a reaction that is quite understandable.
Even more seriously, the databases made the librarians sigh in despair, as they were faced with so much work and so many problems. Some librarians were at their wits’ end; others had tears in their eyes, while the most sensitive sobbed their hearts out. At the time, the role of computers was creating problems, not solving them. Everyone got by as well as they could, with numerous cups of tea and coffee. The computer scientists, overworked, ran from one computer to another, speaking a jargon that no-one could understand.
The database worked very hesitantly at first. That went on for quite a long time; some would say for a very long time. And then things sorted themselves out, and everyone got used to it. The books knew their place again, and so did the librarians. Computers became less big and less ugly, which was not a bad thing.
The computer scientists were still nervous, but no longer as completely exhausted as they had been at first. Many of the librarians could now understand their gobbledegook, which no longer seemed like gobbledygook but had evolved into a technical language.
Eventually, the computer scientists became completely cool, expressing themselves in a language that was perfectly comprehensible to common mortals. The librarians surfed the databases with disconcerting ease, just like the non-virtual surfers riding the curl of the huge waves of the Pacific Ocean.
As for the mouse, it now reposed on a little mat, rubbery or otherwise. People didn’t chase it with a broom as they used to in the past, and no longer hunted down the most recalcitrant ones with traps of various sizes. This period in time – now known as medieval or prehistoric, according to the sources – was now firmly in the past, if not completely over. The mouse could also be discreet, integrated into the keyboard, especially in laptop computers, and no longer had to hide itself away and lead an underground life, like preceding generations. Highly independent mice went wireless.
The Moroccan mat no longer sprawled under the drawers of the paper catalogue of the library, which was now obsolete, but was kept because some people were nostalgic about it, remembering all those index cards patiently typed over days, weeks, months or years, sometimes representing decades worth of effort.
From now on, the mat, Moroccan or not, lay on the table, and the mouse ran about on it, discreetly or blatantly according to the model, something that would have been unthinkable before, in full sight of Morpheus’ cup of coffee or Nicolas’ cup of tea.
Moreover, ebooks were taking over the world. The readers were beginning to read them on their smartphones or tablets. Sooner or later, the mouse and the mat would also become obsolete. Morpheus and Nicolas were delighted by this prospect and couldn’t wait to take to the road again and start something new.