Monday, June 2, 2008

I Think I Can Live Without Books

Damon W. Root, of Reason magazine, has an interesting little nugget in this month's issue. It's called "I Cannot Live Without Books".

Writing from the annual publishing industry brouhaha BookExpo America, which is being held this year in Los Angeles, New York Times reporter Edward Wyatt chronicles the fear and resentment sparked by electronic reading gadgets such as Amazon's Kindle. Have e-book buyers forsaken the physical originals? "We don't see people buying both versions," one publishing executive told Wyatt. "I think there is almost a one-to-one cannibalization."For a more optimistic, or at least more idiosyncratic case for the printed word, the great urban historian Luc Sante offers this gem at the end of a long, discursive Wall Street Journal essay on the endless book collecting that has shaped and dominated his life:

I would very much miss books as material objects were they to disappear. The tactility of books assists my memory, for one thing. I can't remember the quote I'm searching for, or maybe even the title of the work that contains it, but I can remember that the book is green, that the margins are unusually wide, and that the quote lies two-thirds of the way down a right-hand page. If books all appear as nearly identical digital readouts, my memory will be impoverished.

The comment field on all of Reason's online articles are usually instructive and entertaining.
My favorite of this batch is in response to remembering that "the book is green, the margins are wide, and the quote is two-thirds down the page...."
A commenter named Austin suggested using CTRL-F.

Sometime soon I'm going to go way out on a limb and put all of my CD's on an iPod, or an MP3 player, or whatever the heck it is the kids use these days. My child hasn't bought a CD in two years, but my bedroom is covered with them. I think it's a matter of trust, since I've lost so much stuff with computer crashes.

If they ever come up with long-lasting batteries for a Kindle or its Sony equivalent, 90% of my books are going away.


Dr Ralph said...

Books and libraries are both undergoing some interesting changes in context these days.

Ms Dr Ralph (the significant other) is a librarian, and she observes that libraries are no longer about books; they are about information.

The digital age has forced us to view things such as books and recordings as containers of content. This first took place with recordings--witness the current situation with MP3s and digital video--and now is beginning to happen with books.

I love books...they are portable, don't need batteries, never need to be rebooted or backed up.

Books bear a somewhat unique status: the container (physical object) is still strongly associated with the content. And with a lot of books, the physical container is visually appealing. Physical books will, I predict, continue to predominate for most applications.

There are, however, books that I'd prefer in a digital form. I deal with a lot of fat computer books that have a useful shelf live somewhere around that of fresh fish. These I'd just as soon have as a file I could display on a Kindle or the like.

I will say that, given their prior track record (rootkits on CDs, proprietary formats that they abandon, etc.) I'm not going to be looking at any Sony devices anytime soon.

Which brings me to the heart of the dilemma about digital books: if books are (essentially) software, the model will be a software model: you buy a license, not a product. And you call tech support when you can't read your book.

Not something I'm looking forward to...

Don't ask me why I'm up at 5:45.

The Whited Sepulchre said...


Why ARE you up at 5:45?

Like I said before....we're not there yet. The possibility of dead batteries would make me totally nuts.

Have you ever considered that we really haven't improved battery life in about 40 years?