Something Wicked This Way Comes


Posted in studio by Christina Jenkins on November 30, 2008



There’s a piece by James Gleick in this Sunday’s NYT about the future of books. He weighs in on the conversation we’ve had several times about the consequences of technology for physical objects. Remember bicycles? Right. His argument is that books are perfectly suited to the task they’re intended for – reading print – in the same way that hammers and bicycles are. So, he predicts that books will not go extinct in the same way that the phonograph did and CDs will, because those devices are good for something (projecting sound) that other things can do better. Books, though, are the best way of reading print.

That isn’t to say that they’re the best way of communicating information. Obviously, he writes, telephone books and encyclopedias are dead; they’ve been reinvented, in a better way, online. And, related to Google’s scan-every-book-in-the-world project, books that were previously relegated to a dead zone between public domain and bookstores (that is, books that are out of print but not yet copyright-free) may now see a new life if they’re made available online.

So I think Gleick’s point is that books aren’t going anywhere. Changing, yes (some of them might be reincarnated online) but that just frees the book from mass-market obligations. The book won’t be interested in mass appeal, cheapness or comprehensiveness – the Internet is good at that. Let’s instead think about what the book is good for.

I’m so optimistic!

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