The Intangibility of Books: The Digital Bibliophile, by Eric Burns-White

CSC_1112An interesting article on the ongoing and seemingly endless debate on the merits of paper books and ebooks. Personally, I’m very much a paper book person and don’t even own a Kindle. But I did enjoy this article on the joys of ebooks–and modern information technology–and thought I’d share it.

“We’ve all heard it said that we live in the ‘Information Age,’ but I never liked that phrase. Every era of human history has been an Information Age. The dissemination of knowledge and expression of creativity and thought has been the greatest tool humanity has ever had at its disposal. Whether it was a storyteller passing down the knowledge and legends of his people by a fire or in a square, or scribes diligently recopying books, or Gutenberg changing the destiny of humanity by setting type and making reproduction simple, we have always been defined by information — and limited in our access to it.

“What’s really changed in the past thirty years isn’t the appearance of information — it’s the ready access to verification. Before we started carrying around telephones capable of looking up essentially anything anywhere, we were reliant on our memories and on the expertise of the people surrounding us. And, naturally, these things are fallible. In writing my bona fides above, for example, I put in the fact — absolute fact, mind — that I’d started buying e-books from Fictionwise in 1998. I knew this to be true. But… we live in the era of verification, so I looked up Fictionwise’s history — and discovered thereby that Fictionwise didn’t exist until 2000. My ‘fact’ was wrong, and I needed to revise. Likewise, I thought Project Gutenberg dated back to the late eighties, not the early seventies. Research used to take libraries and weeks for interlibrary loans to come in. Now? A huge amount of casual research can be performed… well, casually. We can look anything up at any time. Want to know when Dana Carvey left Saturday Night Live? Once you’d have gotten together with your friends and debated the question, with self-styled experts chiming in and arguments ensuing. I’ll admit, there was an appeal to that — it was social, after all. …

“Does this seem off topic? I promise you, it’s not — because what we’re talking about isn’t simply access. It’s publication. For the first time in history, Freedom of the Press is very close to free. E-books don’t simply represent access to my library. They represent my own ability to write and be read without a gatekeeper or a significant initial outlay preventing me from doing so. Anyone can write an e-book and publish it in the largest book catalogs in the world. Anyone. From a library computer if you don’t have one of your own. Or from an iPad. Or from a phone.”

Read the full article on–it’s well written and worth the time!


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