Monday, June 20, 2011

Smart and Dumb

Well, it was inevitable I suppose, that in light of Kindle/Nook/iPad/Whatever adoption actual paper books are going to disappear (see: this hysteria). This is ridiculous of course, in the same way that radio never actually went away. I'd yield more ground if the death knoll had been for newspapers, but not books. Here are some reasons why-

* Books don't require anything (with the possible exceptions of literacy and ambient light)

Okay, so the end of the world comes around (next year- right?) and any of us that survive it will be in a new stone age or something. Presuming the survivors aren't dumb ass Philistines or bibliophobes and don't use books as kindling or toilet paper, surviving books will still function. Hell, if kids "learn to read" books survive, they can even teach people how to read. What other technology does as well with autonomous self-instruction? We sent that record on Voyager with Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong on it, as well as instructions on how to play it, but that's a long shot.

* Books do not derive their value from currency (as in "recentness")

Yes, some do (is anyone interested in "Balloon Boy's autobiography?) but most books are not meant to be an up to the minute source for whatever they cover. Technical publications are probably the worst for this, but on balance books are meant to reflect the spirit of the time in which they were written, and in this way, have a legacy that will be difficult for any electronic resource to match. The fuzzy area here is what to think of Google digitizing old newspapers and books. While I approve of this work, I also regard it as "e-ersatz".

* Books are barely affected by changes in technology.

No, you can't read that. It was written in WordPerfect 1.0 for DOS 3.3 (or whatever) and is on an 8" diskette (yes, I mean 8"- not the johnny-come-lately 5.25" or 3.5" varieties). Maybe it was only ever on Betamax or LaserDisk. We have a problem with other storage media types that are less pronounced with books. Hell, how old are those Dead Sea Scrolls? Fast forward that far again into the future and present them with a book or a ZIP disk. Can you still even buy ZIP disks? Oh, perhaps relatedly, had you heard that the last maker of typewriters was calling it quits? Well, it turns out that there is another company still in the game, but no one makes a manual (not powered) model anymore. I think I might want to grab an old Underwood, come to think of it...

* Books are remarkably permanent.

Short of fire or flood, a book does a great job of enduring time. Pages will yellow (depending on a number of factors including the acidity of the paper and environmental details) but they still can be read. Do I care if it's a first edition, signed copy? Not really. I collect books on and from World War I, and these are close to 100 years old now, and they can be anywhere from pristine to pieces, but they are all readable.

* Books offer better non-repudiation.

That is to say, that if I publish a book in which I say Margaret Thatcher's feet smell like liver and onions, then I can't as easily distance myself from that later, as I could if it were an online entry. I have seen things disappear online. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. It is harder to make things vanish when they are tangible. This is not the same as accuracy or factuality- I can be fully off the mark with respect to Mrs. Thatcher's podiatric aroma, even willfully lie- but that's a problem that transcends the medium.

So, okay- some loose loony is hoarding books in shipping containers. That's as good a hobby as most. Of course, if instead of shrink wrapping them and storing them away, they were circulated and people were encourage to read them, it might lead to, oh- I don't know... Enlightenment? Knowledge? Critical thinking?

No- I'm just bullshitting. There's no chance of that. I say seal them up and leave them in a cave for the next dominant species on this rock. I bet they'd really get a laugh out of Glenn Beck's book.


Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Stucco, it's a little creepy that you posted this today. I JUST this afternoon purchased an iPad. We bought it mostly so we can facetime with our kids when we go out of the country, but I'm also quietly loving the idea of an e-reader. See, I do most of my reading in bed, and because of back issues, I tend to lie on my side. I like to only read the top pages, so I have to flip like a burger on a grill every time I get to the end of a page. Being able to read without having to flip every minute and a half will be quite relaxing, I think, and will certainly annoy my husband much less.

I will never, EVER give up my paper books, though. I'm an English teacher and an unrepentant book whore; electronic copies will augment, not supplant, my book habit.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous MLM Software said...

books are my favorite...
i love to read, your blog is very nice i liked what you have written.

12:31 AM  

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