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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Book as a Form of Presentation Art

I have received a batch of emails related to the paper book as an artifact of past glory in paper publishing over the holiday weekend. One of the rather more prominent members of the group contributing to the thread involved called books in paper form a fetish. I was, in fact, quite amused by much of the content of that thread. The future is seldom what we expect it to be.

2007 tower Paper publishing is obviously being altered and even threatened by digital publishing. Of course every form of information will be altered or replaced by newer, more complex digital forms over time. The key qualifier here is, “Over time,”; and the key question in the thread is how long will this replacement process take in the case of the written word presented in book form?

The continued use of paper is clearly more expensive in many cases than the simple act of moving a digital file from one place to another. It is also clear that many more forms of digital information can be included in publications that enjoy the flexibility of digital publishing over paper. Still and all old habits die hard. I still have several newspapers delivered to my driveway even as I use the Internet to read several more each day.

How fast will all of the replacement of paper take place and how soon will I be forced to do without my many pages of birdcage liners that grace my weekly recycling contribution? I am reading about the future as I have done most of my adult life. In the future virtual reality will eventually take over the process of transferring complete information about any life experience.

Technology in terms of the presentation of information is clearly expanding our options. I wonder if any of the people contributing to that thread really understand exponential growth in technology and what it means to all of us. The capacity of single computers will exceed the capacity of the human brain somewhere in the next two decades if Ray Kurzweil is to be believed.

From that point to the point in time where exponential growth in data transfer technology and computing capacity lead to human minds with millions of times the capacity for data transfer and data manipulation of the current human mind is short indeed. I suspect that most of the people contributing to that thread can no more comprehend a world where living thousands of virtual lives in one short period of time will be a common experience than can I.

The time devoted to reading one book might instead be devoted to experiencing the lives of all of the characters in a lifeline presentation series in that world. Of course this idea presupposes that someone could be bothered to produce such a presentation in a world where the computers are the majority of the conscious minds around.

Exponential growth in computing power and data transfer capabilities dictates that such a world will be upon us before the next generation grapples with its somewhat diminished mortality. If, as Ray suspects, we are mere decades from downloading human consciousness into those immensely expanded computers mortality itself will be drastically altered if not eliminated.

So I find myself amused by the parochial nature of the discussion in that thread. It is not only the art of the book or the written word that is under duress here. It is more appropriate to consider what will happen to the art of experiencing life itself and how that will be transferred in such a world as will exist before this century is half over.

We do live in interesting times don’t we? Tags: ebooks,books,publishing,digital reading,book technology,Kurzweil

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is the Digital Era creating New Life for P-Books?

After a very long weekend of too much food, too many relatives and too little sleep, I woke up yesterday, poured a cup of coffee and started reading the New York Times.  The first article to catch my attention was How to Publish Without Perishing.

nytlogo153x23 In this piece James Gleick opines that there is a bright future for printed, bound books:

I think, on the contrary, we’ve reached a shining moment for this ancient technology. Publishers may or may not figure out how to make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of literary forms. . . .

Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.


While I find this an interesting view, I wonder if Mr. Gleick has been out and about in the real world lately.  Has he been to his local bookstore?  Does he have any contact at all with "the younger generation"?

Later in the day I found myself inside the local Barnes and Noble.  In our town, they have the best selection of CDs and it is Christmas time. 

The store was moderately busy.  A few people in the coffee shop, a few people sitting in the oversize chairs (mostly they looked like they were waiting for someone), a bustling staff and a handful of customers. 

barnes chars I took a seat and did some intense people watching over the next half hour.  Anything was better than facing the chaos in my house!

I found the demographics very telling.  I saw children (approximately 5-13) accompanied by parents; I saw middle aged women, and I saw old men and women.  Aside from the staff, I did not see one person between the age of about 13 and 30.  None!

I was willing to chalk it up to a very unscientific survey and leave it at that.  I decided I better quite procrastinating.  So I started gathering my stuff and getting ready to go clean up my house.  And then I saw her.  A real life teenage girl.  She just appeared before my eyes. I was so intrigued by the sight I just stared.

She looked around for a moment, and then she threw herself into a chair with a big sigh.  She routed around in her jean's pocket and pulled out a cell phone.  Within seconds she was texting away.  Totally ignoring all the beautifully bound books along with everyone in the store.

I for one, am unwilling to bet that she will someday wake up and find a book a thing of beauty; something to cherish.  I doubt that she will see a book as an idea or a set of literary forms.

She may see it as furniture (a great way to warm up a room and give it a little class).  Kind of like the antique rolltop desk I inherited from my grandmother.  Beautiful but with very limited usability. Tags: ebook,e-books,digital reading,publsihing,books,p-books