Sunday, November 25, 2012

David Byrne on Books: Will we be able to read our eBooks in 100 years?


I like eBooks. I like physical books, too. It's sad to watch bookstores disappear as more and more folks buy their books online or read eBooks and rarely visit a bookstore. What will be lost and what have we gained in this process?

We've definitely gained convenience—as we did with MP3s. I can carry hundreds of eBooks on my device, as well as newspapers and some magazines. I like the elimination of clutter (or at least physical clutter—there is still plenty of virtual clutter in my life). I like that fewer trees are being sacrificed for paper, but I sense this might be (more than?) offset by the massive amounts of power needed to keep the server farms that hold all our info and support the digital universe going all around the globe.
 
I like that I can highlight sentences in an eBook and then they appear on a web page so my "note taking" is made very easy. I read a lot of nonfiction, so highlighting is part of the fun, and this little bit of technology makes it easier. Same with the built-in dictionaries—I am the product of a Baltimore public school, and though I have continued my education in many ways there are still words I come across that I don't know, so the built in dictionaries are a godsend.

Books, when well made and beautifully designed, are lovely to hold and behold. There is pleasure in reading a well designed book. A little bit of beauty is added to one's life—something that can't be measured in terms of pure information.

I also have a funny feeling that, like much of our world that is disappearing onto servers and clouds, eBooks will become ephemeral. I have a sneaking feeling that like lost languages and manuscripts, most digital information will be lost to random glitches and changing formats. Much of our world will become unretrievable—like the wooden houses, music, and knowledge of our ancient predecessors. I have a few physical books that are 100 years old. Will we be able to read our eBooks in 100 years? Really?

We're sort of making our whole culture and civilization ephemeral—or more ephemeral than ever—with our rush to digitize.

Lastly, as soon as eBooks can be hacked and distributed for free that industry will really be on its knees—just like the music biz.
 

11 Comments:

At 11/27/2012 3:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will we be able to read poetry in 100 years? Will we be able to read in 100 years?

 
At 11/27/2012 10:07 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

John, Are you a Baltimore Ravens fan?
Tom

 
At 11/27/2012 10:22 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Q 1: Yes and yes.

Q 2: truth is, I'm not sure what sport that even is, football or baseball, I'm guessing. Of course, I could look it up. But that would be too easy.

 
At 11/27/2012 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He who feeds the Ravens will give his children bread.

 
At 11/29/2012 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Far as eBooks go, no. And they won't even make a good doorstop. I like the chances of good old books. They've got a great track record for longevity, better even than records, now that I think about it, which I've heard are making a comeback.

Happy holidays,

tpeterson

 
At 11/29/2012 6:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

TP, I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but I was listening to Neil Young on The Daily Show talking about his Pono music format. He's been talking about that for years in various ways. His argument is that digital takes the soul out of music. I'm not sure if I'm really on board with him or not, "soul" is a little inflated in my thinking, but I believe ebooks take the soul out of reading, so I guess I can't really fault him.

We'll still be reading in 100 years and we'll still be listening to music. But I agree, our digital formats will no longer exist. That goes for all those pictures we have stored on our hard-drives.

 
At 11/30/2012 5:51 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

I wrote Q1.(& "He who feeds...." From a Cowper hymn, I think.)

Maybe I'm just venting--I used to teach writing at a cc, and now I teach high school English and come home feeling like a streetcorner evangelist who's been haranguing heedless passersby all day--but I'm not sure we'll be reading poetry or even reading in a 100 years. Maybe a bibliophobic, F451-like dystopia is in the offing. I hope you're right, however...or do I?
"Indeed, he always felt that Government stood alone and desperate, with its back to the wall. He was too quixotic to have cared for it otherwise." Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday.

 
At 11/30/2012 6:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

We are not in a golden age of reading, that’s for sure. But ages come and go, and swing. In other ways, we are in something of a golden age of literacy, as percentages of the literate show in comparison to other ages. Still, I would have it be different. I’m confident that, barring something from space hitting us or something from the ground hitting us, in a hundred years things’ll still be a swinging.

 
At 12/04/2012 8:41 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

We're actually seeing trends reverse largely due to technology. Granted, most of what is being read is still not poetry, but the conventional wisdom that readership is on the decline isn't quite true anymore.

 
At 12/04/2012 11:53 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

What I fear, Fuzz--and if I'm wrong, I want you to set me on my ass--is that we've traded one problem for another. Once, most people were illiterate and a few people read Shakespeare and Milton. Now we're moving toward a high percentage of the population having rudimentary literacy skills while demanding poetry languishes unread--despised, even.

 
At 12/04/2012 7:43 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

That's a fair assessment. If NYC is a microcosm for the world (it's not, but don't tell the people who live here that), I see a lot of NY Times best sellers getting read on the train. "The Girl Who..." and A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones), etc.

Patti Smith's Just kids did have a pretty strong showing, and just last week I chatted with someone reading Tradition and The Individual Talent on the subway, but yes, very little poetry.

Although the MTA has brought back "Poetry in Motion", which places these terrible poems on subway cars. There is nothing challenging about them, but I appreciate their presence nonetheless.

 

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