Provocative article from the Guardian titled ‘Books will disappear. Print is where words go to die’:
We need to kill the book to save books. Now relax. I’m not suggesting burning books, nor replacing them with electronic gizmos in some paperless future of fable and fantasy. Instead, I’m merely arguing that the book is an outdated means of communicating information. And thanks to the searchable, connected internet, books could be so much more.
Actually, much as I argue for electronic publication in many forums, I think reverence for books is a good thing. Discuss…
There is nothing worse than trying to read a long text on a computer. Until they sort that out, it just won’t work. Do these ‘books are dead’ people think we are all going to curl up in bed with our wirelessly connected laptops, or take our PC to the bath.
Oh, and books smell good too.
It seems to me content that is discursive, intended to be followed as an argument, does work well in books.
On the other hand academics are still putting lots of material in books that would be far more usable online, in a medium where it can be updated according to new discoveries or further editorial reflection, where it can be accompanied by as much multimedia content as seems desirable, where it is searchable, where it might well interoperate with related resources at other nodes, where it is susceptible to community-driven aggregation or supplement, where it can be accessible to much broader audiences. Etc.
The problem is not so much about whether you will read a book on paper or in another form (and already you can load an e-book onto a portable, offline PDA or similar, and with proper e-paper you won’t even need a battery to keep a page on-screen in memory). If the concept of “book” is broader than merely “a couple hundred sheets of wood-pulp paper stitched together”, then the content that makes up a book–which may be discursive, narrative, reference, hypermedia, or some other genre of content–can be presented *in some form* on-screen, on paper, via audio or braille, in or any of a huge range of forms.
Would Not-my-real-name’s answer be different if you were blind?
That is a really good point, Gabriel. I think the original article’s point about fiction being best transmitted via book is the key, because I agree totally that academic work prima facie should be online. I love SSRN, and I think wikis have a great chance of being an interactive academic medium.
I can’t see a problem with audio books in terms of blindness or any other difficulty in reading. I guess that is not where I was going – my point was that books, whilst static, are nevertheless a useful form in the correct context and have been that way forever.
Yes, there are other contexts, but my original point was that there is no reason for books in printed form to have their place. That place, however, is probably in future going to be a niche, rather than the default option.
And I stand by my original comments in terms of reading from screens. It is next to impossible, in my experience, to gain enough information from buckets of text on a screen over a long period. I can read enough to get the gist of an academic article, but I find it incredibly difficult to read the whole thing! However, having that work *accessible* is crucial.
Does that make more sense?
Yes, that makes perfect sense.
I also agree with you about reading from a screen. Currently while I do read e-books, anything over two or three pages I print (with thin margins and double-sided, and then I recycle the paper). I’m waiting with eagerness for e-paper or something similar to provide a solution to this. I suspect it will, but it may not be this month…
Nothing will happen to the book while large numbers of them remain undigitised! Consider the tiny number of medieval manuscripts online — because ms. libraries can’t digitise them themselves for lack of funds, and won’t let readers use a digital camera to digitise mss. for them. I’ve been writing to the British Library’s CEO about this, and find that they won’t photograph and put online 3 mss of Tertullian, and won’t let me do it either.
I had a professor this semester whose job it is to digitise medieval manuscripts! How fun would that be!
Although I’m not sure the medieval manuscript is really where the original article was going!