Sunday, 25 November 2007

No Books?

Are we about to see the end of printing? I was reading about the latest attempt at an electronic book. People have been talking about this sort of thing as a serious proposition for at least 30 years (Chris Evans' book "The Mighty Micro", 1979, for example), but no-one has yet managed to wean us off paper.

Thirty years ago, it would have been very difficult to produce such a thing. Computers didn't have a lot of memory. Displays used either very primitive LCD technology or CRTs. Most people didn't have any form of electronic technology in their homes.

Nowadays, we're used to carrying around personal electronic items. We are used to getting information from the internet. We don't need to go to the cinema to watch a film. Surely it's time to get rid of the book?

The book does have some advantages. It's cheap to make, but difficult to copy. There are no compatibility issues beyond language. Everyone who can read can read a book - you don't have to pay $400 before you can even get started.

It also has some disadvantages. It's fine to print and distribute thousands or millions of copies of something, but not so good when you only want a few. Printing books involves cutting down trees - how long are the environmentalists going to let us get away with that?

Nowadays, I don't use printed matter very much. Whether at home or at work, it's often more convenient to read things at the screen. As screen real-estate increases (wide screens, multiple screens), you can have a document open on the screen to refer to whilst you're working on something else.

At home the main reason I use electronic media is to read things I can't get in print. Greek newspapers are a little difficult to obtain here on a daily basis - far easier to read a PDF version. Blogs also don't get distributed on paper. Neither does Wikipedia or IMDb. The only advantage I can see to reading these things the old way would be that I could sit in my armchair. So at some point, I need to get a laptop. Problem solved.

But what about the magic of books? What about first editions, signed copies and so on? This is something that doesn't interest me at all. For me, the importance of a book is what's written. I don't understand why someone would pay thousands for a first edition copy of a Dickens book when you can get a newly printed one for a Pound or two.

They're estimating at least 20 years before books disappear. I suspect that when the last book is printed there'll be a news story about it - on the web. And that maybe one or two bloggers (or whatever they'll have then) will pick up on it, but that no-one else will notice.

Personally, I'm not sure I can wait that long - I've already got more books than shelf-space...


Bee said...

I guess I'll have to invent the underground printing press and sell books to those of us who would rather cut out someone's eye (I'd never cut out my own) than get rid of books.

There's nothing better than sitting at my favorite chair while looking out the window and reading on a rainy or cold day, snuggled in a fleece blanket while enjoying a nice cup of coffee. The other is sitting in my garden while the breeze perfumes the air with the smell of pine trees. Then there's the nights when your tired but can't sleep so you read in bed hoping this will do the trick and knock you out.

I understand you can do all these with he new "book" but, for me, part of the enjoyment is the smell of the paper as I turn a page or ear mark where I left off. Besides, what happens if my clumsy self drops the darn thing? I'd have to keep replacing it and that would not be cheap since I am the worlds "Butterfingers" champion!

Brian o Vretanos said...

Yes, there is a certain aesthetic appeal to paper. Another important point is that the technology isn't offering anything that you can't get at the moment with paper. With music and images, digital offers quality improvement and guards against deterioration. Books don't have this problem.

I don't think that the hand-held books will catch on until they're part of your phone/Ipod/PC device. Then you'll like the convenience of having all your books with you. On a whim you could decide to go to a cafe, have a coffee and read another chapter.

Then all they need to do is to encase it in rubber and make it shockproof ;-)

Jean Knee said...

there is just so much that is wrong with getting rid of books.
I love to go to used book stores and dig around in the debris, usually you find at least one obscure out of print book to buy for a dollar. Plus the smell of old people and dust is so nostalgic.

Then there is going to that sin against mankind Barnes & Noble where you can browse at seemingly unlimited books but heaven help you if you want to purchase them because you absolutely do not have that kind of cash at your disposal.
And if you are lucky there will be a starbucks attached that sells $5.00 cups of Joe. Oh Jackpot!!

Of course the solution here being sell a kidney to a rich person or, write down the titles that interest you and order them from the library where you (I) will no doubt rack up enough fines to buy a starbucks a day but still less that buying actual books.

Ain't no way I'm ever giving any of this up for some kind of electronic crap.

Brian o Vretanos said...

Jean Knee:

It's funny, but I was thinking that the thing I'd miss the most is the bookshops. Of course, these days, I can't get the books I need in them, but there is something about them. I also like the secondhand bookshops, though I prefer the ones that sell affordable books - as I said in the post, I'm not interested in things like first editions.

The most impressive-looking books on my bookshelf are a set of Dickens books which are actually cheap reprints of an 1875 edition, and cost about £2 each. I've even read one of them - the only book that has ever brought tears to my eyes ("A Tale of Two Cities").

Jean Knee said...

reading that long boring thing would make anyone cry

Jean Knee said...

the used bookstore I go to specializes in, Aunt Edna's dead let's sell her junk" type books

really, I haven't read that book so I'm just guessing (worst a times besta)

Jean Knee said...

I always wonder if people check old posts foer new messages

Jean Knee said...

i meant for

Bee said...

jean knee, in this day and age, people don't need to check old post, they're automatically e-mailed to us. I'm answering for Brian since he's watching his Emilia at the moment.

Brian o Vretanos said...

Jean Knee:


That's the one. It's not that long or boring.

There's a guy who's in love with the heroine, but he's been living a life of drinking and gambling, and in the end he takes the place of the love of her life and gets guillotined instead so that the couple can be together. That's where the "Greater love hath no man" quote comes from, as he's looking ahead to the future when they'll remember him, and name their first son after him, etc. The woman in front of him in the guillotine queue is a bit nervous, so he helps her, holds her hand as she dies, etc. It's all very sad stuff... Books don't normally have that effect on me.

Jean Knee:

Bee's right - you should set the appropriate option on your blog account so you get emailed.