Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rumors of the Death of the Book

This topic isn't exactly Brookline related per se, although I'm sure we have more than our fair share of heavy reader and authors per capita than just about anywhere. So here comes another gizmo we are supposed to want to carry around with us and use, the Kindle. It's supposed to be so much like reading a book, we can get lost in the experience, just like we do when we read.....The great minds at MIT worked for a decade devising E Ink, which is much more like ink on paper, rather than looking at a backlit screen. There will be a wireless all-pervasive "whispernet" cellphone network that we use to download our books from Amazon. We can climb a tree and download a book at the same time!

Do you detect a note a sarcasm? I am showing my age I guess. How many books do I need access to at once? To actually read? One of my big problems with the Kindle is its exclusive network and control of content. Can you get books anywhere else and read them on the Kindle? Or is this world domination a la Amazon? At least with an IPod it supports multiple file formats and you can source music files any number of ways.

Another big problem I have is browsing or serendipity. How many of you have wondered into a great book store or yard sale for that matter and stumbled upon a great book you never knew you were looking for? How will we find these if the physical objects don't exist? Amazon recommends X because you liked Y is just not going to get it.

I know, books are an environmental nightmare and this is the digital age after all. The Death of the Book is Inevitable!! This is what "they" say anyway. I wonder. We always get this idea that its a zero sum proposition, when in fact, it might just be that we have another way to read, with both formats remaining viable for different purposes.

After listening to a very interesting discussion on WBUR with Steven Levy (author of this week's Newsweek article The Future of Reading) and Sven Birkerts (author of The Gutenberg Elegies) a friend gave me a copy of the Newsweek article. In it Levy says "Talk to people who have thought about the future of books and there's a phrase you hear again and again. Readers will read in public. Writers will write in public...the notion of the author as authoritarian figure gives way to a Web 2.0 wisdom-of-the-crowds process."

If you ask me this is completely missing the boat. Being an author isn't just about the ideas. Sure, in the research phase of project, get all the input you can. The more ideas the better. But its the process of making connections, winnowing, the content. Then its the craft. Do you think the group process would have made Shakespeare better? Any writer worth their salt knows its sweating bullets, editing, editing , editing that makes something good.

When we read something it is that we want to experience another persons vision, or get some idea of how they think or share their view of the world? How could this happen if everything written was a group effort? There would be no cohesion. Maybe I'm missing something in what they are predicting.

Digitizing books has obvious research benefits (searchable databases, universal access etc.) and I'm all for that. But does that mean technology will necessarily improve upon the book? Maybe not, but perhaps we won't have a choice. I don't know about you, but it sure seems like the future sure is coming faster than ever!
[Where: 02446]

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