The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Seed is Planted and Grows...

Every so often, a thought comes to me while reading comments, either the ones on my blog or on one of the fine blogs I follow, that ends up a post all its own. Most times, that post will take a few days or more to grow from that seed of a thought into a full blown post.

Not this time. I was replying to comments made by several people regarding books and how the feel of them in our hands is important to the act of reading when I decided that a simple comment in reply was not enough. (whew! That was a long sentence!)

So, here is the result: a comment as post.

In the short comment, I said that two things were consistent in Man's history: story telling and the desire to "feel" the words. That led, in my mind, to the novel "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. The story was seen to be about censorship, about denying people books, to keep the public ignorant. But people fought back, they "became" the books that were being destroyed. They became the "story tellers" by memorizing a book so they could retell it and each would teach the book to others so they could retell it elsewhere. These groups became the "libraries".

But Bradbury said he intended it to be about the advent of television reducing knowledge to factoids by destroying interest in books. To be honest, I think he was saying that in hindsight. He wrote the short story, "Bright Phoenix" (from which rose "Fahrenheit 451"), in 1947 and television was in its infancy at the time. No, I think the "seed" of the novel was in the book burnings of Nazi Germany. [A digression: Think about Oskar Werner being cast in the role of the "fireman"]

I would relate the plot in more detail but I think most of you have read it (if you haven't, please do so!). And the story is much more complex (which is why it has become a classic) than just this aspect. What brought it to mind is we are facing another era in which books are perhaps being supplanted by electronic images, where knowledge is being reduced to what we find on the internet, where we read Wikipedia synopses of books rather than the books themselves, where books online (though available) are not read. It's easier to get the gist of a book than it is to absorb it in total.

The responses in my commentary about libraries and books says we aren't. It says that there will always be enough of us to keep the physical books alive. There will always be people who write and tell stories, spark ideas. There will always be people who will inspired by the "story tellers" and who will, in turn, try to inspire others along the same lines.

Will books eventually be replaced by electronic tablets? I don't think so. After all, we still have people telling stories orally; parents and teachers would read to children, professors who lecture on history and philosophy. Books did not replace them, only made them more available to the public. So I think books will go on.

Pandora's Hope is still alive in the world.


Steven said...

I kind of think it's inevitable that printed books will die...there's just not enough people that read anymore, and when it stops being profitable, they'll stop being produced. I predict some companies will arise that will make deals to print books on demand, but they'll be extremely expensive - they won't be able to print with plates, and they'll have to pay an extraordinary fee to the publisher.

The used book market is already huge and troubling to publishers, and is something they'd like to contain, DeBeers style. E-Book readers are getting MUCH better and will become pretty affordable this year - and they have the added bonus (to the publishers) that a purchased book can't be re-sold or loaned out.

I think printed book publishing will mostly come to an end this century, if not in my lifetime. Tor will be a last holdout. Or one of the first to go only digital.

Neo said...

I don't know if I agree or disagree, are you saying the printer on the computer will go? I think there will always be a use for the printed word, and yes ebooks will grow, I read a spin on this idea through an ebook (second reading actually) Anthem by Ayn Rand
the essence of the story is in the song 2112 by Rush, but the book is much better
The ebook was a bit of a hastle as I needed to be at my desktop computer to read it, yes there is the notebook computer but still I think the book (pages and print) is easier and more affordable.
btw I really enjoy your blog.

IB said...

A great post Douglas.

I saw an interview with Jeff Bezos, of Amazon. He was peddling the digital reader, "Kindle". He said that books are just simply a technology. He went on to say that Kindle and other digital readers were just a new technology, an evolutionary step in reading. This may be true. But I say, it has no soul. It has no physical presence, it has no charm.

One need not look beyond one's iPod to see what I mean. It may hold within it a couple of thousand songs, but it doesn't feel permanent. It is digital, virtual, cold.

Personally, if book publishers stop printing new books, I'll be OK with it. There are so many millions out there to read already it'll probably get me through my life time.

Douglas said...

Steven - Books are expensive now, even toss away paperbacks. I don't think cost will doom them. Do you read printed works for enjoyment and/or knowledge? Will you continue, if so? then books will continue, I think.

Neo - No, the printer will stay and improve. And thanks for the compliment. We live for them, it seems.

IB - (see thanks above to Neo, ditto to you) The portable electronic readers will get better, I am sure, but what happens when batteries or formats change? Will we need to update our personal libraries? Will we eventually just store our libraries on our computers or online? If so, what happens if we run out of energy sufficient to maintain these things? Printed work will continue, I think... I hope.

Embee said...

I'm hoping the printed word will continue as well. I agree that having the book in hand..the feel of the book, the smell of the pages, the textures, are all part of the experience. I'm not sure if that's just because I'm a diehard book fan, or if it's true for even casual readers. So far my son is following in my footsteps, so maybe if we take it generation by generation we can keep the books alive!

Neo said...

hey is this a blog you follow?

cause she is talkin just what you are sayin, put this one on the follow list

underOvr (aka The U) said...

After reading this post and the comments, I'm reminded of Steve Bucemi asking Nicholas Cage, "Define irony"; a discussion on the sustainability of printed books on a blog (digital electronic forum).

I believe publishers are faced with a real dilemma, the growth of electronic media, and the cost to publish printed books. School districts are facing cost cutting issues as well, and I do not see it as unrealistic to think that cost decisions will drive the academic world to exploit the use of tools which enable educators to teach students. Libraries have been using film readers for years, so it can't be that difficult to convert these devices to digital readers.

This is not a war to eliminate books, both have value and merit. This reminds me of a similar discussion (years ago) on whether the turntable would be replaced by the CD.


Douglas said...

Embee - That's the essence of a book and how I started; by my mother reading to me and encouraging me to read. Maybe that's what we feel when we read, that familiar loved feeling is brought back to us.

Neo - One of those coincidences, I guess. I had never heard of that blog. But she is supportive of the kindle, as are others. Still I see a limitation; that dependence on power (battery, recharging). A book needs nothing once it's printed.

U - You are right, I hope. I don't want to have it all one way or the other; I just don't want to see the physical books disappear.

Michael said...

I'm always awkward with books. I don't really know how to hold them now that my hands are so big, my arms are so long and my body is always hard to adjust into a comfortable position.

Laptops are easier. They go on your lap.

And I read books online. They work for me somehow. My eyes don't strain from looking at the computer for hours and hours and the story still gets told.

A book needs turning. It needs to be held in one hand at least. It needs bookmarks. And protection to prevent it from getting wet, burnt or old.

Physical books won't disappear in this century, I reckon.

Douglas said...

Michael - When I was in the Navy, I would carry around a paperback book all the time on board the ship. They actually fit in the back pocket of the denim trousers of the at sea uniform. Well, mostly. A dog eared page served as a bookmark when I didn't care to just memorize the page number I was on. But your comment reminds me that we are all products (victims?) of our experiences. You have been raised in an electronic environment and you have adapted well to it. I am fast becoming an anachronism, losing my ability to embrace the new. Thanks for that "slap upside the head" as my mother used to describe an admonishment.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Douglas, wasn't it convenient, books fitted perfectly in the back pocket of air force unifroms too. I was never without the current offering in my back pocket. Service life isn't quite like civvy street, you get a chance to do nothing for long periods and without a book or a deck of cards (loved to play cribbage too) you were ... (looking for nice word) lost.

Sadly the evolution of the printed page is doomed, just as bakelte became vinyl, vinyl became oxide tape, tape became CD and now we have iPod and mp3.

Paper is evolving. Good for the trees, forests and environment, but I still miss putting an LP on the turntable, just as I miss the feel of a book; and in a recent post I wrote about the passing of the romance of the steam locomotive whistle in favour of the blare diesel-electric horn.

New things are inevitable, they are not always welcome or good, or the same.


btw, I commented on Tomus. I believe the pop-up ads were the result of Google, Technorati and Alexia rank thingies I had, I was getting them too and they were annoying the crap out of me. They're gone now and I have had no more probs. I would have been disappointed if you stopped following because our sailiopinions differed.