Last year, I wrote a blog post on my thoughts about the future of the book. I took a very firm stand that books can never be replaced by the new electronic age, at least not in my home anyway. Well, my knowledge about the e-book and emerging technologies has grown quite a bit in the last year, and while the Kindle may be a great mechanism for some, it has not quite found a place in my pocketbook, yet.
A couple months ago, a news station announced a public school that was considering buying electronic textbooks instead of bound books for all its classes. After hearing this news, I stood with my mouth open in shock for a few minutes trying to grasp this unfamiliar concept. It hit me then, just how popular the e-book was becoming and how terribly close we were to it completely redefining the way we read, study, educate, and even live.
I began thinking of my own education experience, especially as a child growing up. Learning to read was one of the biggest accomplishments and most important steps in my development. I can recall sitting on my bed as a toddler, struggling with certain words in a particular Dr. Seuss book, with my mother beside me encouraging me along, reminding me I did know those words. I can also recall the feeling of being able to read my first book completely by myself. The accomplishment I felt of being able to open a book, smell its pages, read its words, understand its meaning, and hold it close to my heart when I was finished. It was an experience that can never be replaced, especially by a hand-held device. While, I would hope we never have to teach our kids to read through the small screen of an iPhone application, I can’t imagine having to attend school trying to learn World History on an electronic textbook. Does that seem like the optimal way to learn?
I admit there are certain conveniences of having an e-book, the ability to take it anywhere and the option to have many stories all saved on one device. And certainly all of our backs would be a lot stronger if we hadn’t carried around so many heavy textbooks as high school teenagers. But for me, education is a hands-on experience. I need to hold it, highlight it, flip it, write it, and see it on a printed piece of paper. Having electronic formats for many things is wonderful, and there are various avenues where it can be used efficiently in education, but I would hope that the conversion to all electronic education would not do a disservice to children who need a more tangible way to learn.
Maybe the idea just needs to sit on me awhile longer, but this digital age is moving quickly. Hopefully, we will find a happy-medium where the growth of one form of books/education does not lead to the exclusion of the other. This new growth can be good, but why fix something that isn’t broken? Sometimes the old-fashioned way just works.
The World of Books
Is the most remarkable creation of man
Nothing else that he builds ever lasts
Civilizations grow old and die out
And after an era of darkness
New races build others
But in the world of books are volumes
That have seen this happen again and again
And yet live on
Still as fresh as the day they were written
Still telling men’s hearts
Of the hearts of men centuries dead
What Clarence Day meant by this saying was that no matter what, through all the hardships that have occurred through human history, the book has somehow, and miraculously, made it through. However, we are entering a world of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads that put a digital book in the palm of your hand. Now, with the flick of a finger, we can download and read Gone with the Wind or The Great Gatsby in its entirety. The headaches of having to cart around the entire collection of your favorite volumes through the ever-so-constricting lines of the airport security are now a thing of the past.
But where will the book be in the future with all of these technological advancements going on around it? Personally, I like a physical book in my hand, but I also like playing Angry Birds on my phone—not necessarily the same thing. After reading email after email and researching antiquarian titles for customers, at the end of the day, I really just want to close my eyes for a while (I wait until I’m done driving home!) and relax them.
As someone who works in my kitchen all of the time, I read through a lot of cookbooks (thank you Thomas Keller). As you know, paper and veal stock don’t react well to each other, especially when you want to reuse the cookbook again. However, I love the feeling of having little red dollops of marinara sauce on a page where there is a lasagna recipe, or green splotches over the chive oil recipe. It gives me that feeling of ‘yea, I’ve been there before’. I can savor the memory of making that recipe before which gives me the most satisfaction. It’s like the book is reading me instead of me reading it.
Try letting sauce and oils creep into the crevices of an eBook reader and watch how quickly you will have to get it repaired, or take it back to the store all together.
Throughout this technological transition, the publishing process remains the same: write, read, revise, design, discuss, repeat. Good writing remains a universal driver of productivity. Yet, I can’t help but find today’s intermediary industry fascinating.
True, I’ll always dote upon my overstuffed bookshelves much like Gollum does upon his “Precious.” And I will forever prefer thumbing through a dog-eared copy of my favorite novel over scanning its text on a pixilated computer screen. But the web’s unprecedented scope takes the publishing industry to an entirely new level.
Technology enhances product discoverability and expands existing audiences. It also preserves texts subject to deterioration and permits cheesy romance novel enthusiasts to read on in public unscathed. Books (and their evil e-book offspring) are both made to inform, inspire, record and admire. The insurgent e-book, though guilty of providing an inferior reader experience, can’t be blamed if the book industry suddenly suffers an onset of organ failure. Not yet, at least.
Book purists, fear not: the book industry is alive and kicking and will be for many generations to come.
To sum up, in 140 characters or less, the book isn’t dying; it’s digitizing. Gradually.