Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

What Bookmakers Are Betting On

One refrain heard over and over (and louder and louder) from the Net Yea-sayers is the book is dead. (Usually followed by, Long Live the E-book.) Not to be outdone, the Net Nay-sayers chime in with, the book is rapidly becoming obsolete. (Often followed by, is this The End Of Civilization as we know it?)

Yet, as I research this book (Triumph of the Machines) I am overwhelmed by relevant books in print—written by both the Yea- and the Nay-sayers. New ones, it seems, almost every week. I see no downward spiral. What I see is a lack of shelf space in the bookstores. But I don’t find these books in bookstores; I discover most of them because they’re referenced in the other books I read. And from the library through the magic of serendipity. I buy some of those I can’t get through the library from Amazon. I buy them as physical books, not e-books. (Yes, I’ve looked at e-books, have been looking since the mid-nineties—but they still don’t work for me.)

The other thing I don’t see is time to read them all. So if I’ve missed an important book (or three) about our future in e-land, I apologize. On the other hand (OTOH as they say in e-land), it seems both the Yea-sayers and the Nay-sayers have missed the point: the book—including the books they write—is not dead. The reading of physical books may be on the decline, but Net experts are still killing trees. And there’s good reason.

Books have, and will continue to have, important advantages over any e-book. For example, while Kindle may claim it’s lighter than a paperback, you can drop a paperback (unintentionally I hope) and it will survive. Down a flight of stairs. On concrete. You can also keep books in your refrigerator—you won’t but you might leave them out in the car in sub-freezing weather. Or, worse, you might leave them on the car’s rear shelf in a hundred degree plus temperatures. With the windows closed. Try that with a Kindle. Or a cat.

One last remark in favor of books. I have a few books over 150 years old. In good working (that is, reading) condition. Does anyone seriously think we’ll be able to say that about e-books on a Kindle? More likely, it will be a curiosity for future archeologists. OTOH, if people keep giving them a good home, I’ll bet my books will still be around.


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