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27 July 2011

Bound, Printed, Non-Streaming Media Artifacts

John Keilman wrote in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune: Here's betting that books will have a much longer shelf life than bookstores. I do not bet on sure things, being quirky in that way. Of course, "books" will last longer than bookstores, but the key is what kind of books? With a vote towards printed bound [paper] books, Keilman has cited a few negatives about electronic books, like the imposition of "a tyrannical inflexibility on the act of reading." He explains,
If you want to go backward to refresh your memory about a character or jump ahead to consult the endnotes, you either endure an annoying bout of button-mashing or give up. That can make reading anything more complicated than an airport thriller a frustrating experience.
Reading that reminds me of the late Charles Dunphy who loved reading and lost the sight of one eye to a botched operation and sight in the other in a near-death illness which included renal failure and a host of other problems just as awful as becoming blind. Even while he had decent sight in one eye, it was tiring to read.  People thought that audiobooks would be the way to go for such an ardent booklover. He rejected them as Keilman rejects electronic books, also saying that it was difficult to go back and re-read a previous part that might help explain something in the here and now (even while it was a CD, I could almost imagine the frustration of stopping and starting to just the right point, like we did with the old reel-to-reel recording machine my father had when I was young and we were recording songs and messages for the grandparents in Hong Kong and for posterity (imagine that)). It was difficult to see how much further (longer?) until the end of the chapter or to imagine when a good stopping point was approaching. He much preferred a human being (preferably wife Frances) reading a printed bound book to him, whom he can ask, "Can you go back to when ..." or "How many pages until the end of the chapter? I going to have to get up and stretch my legs." Additionally, when one person reads aloud to another, there is an engagement of minds in a shared activity that is lost when two people are listening together to an audio book.

Keilman also cites a study in which electronic books with their wonderfully engineered uniformity in print could lull us, like easy listening music, into an intolerance for anything difficult or needing thoughtful response. And why should a book only do one thing? Even Amazon.com concedes it needs to develop a tablet-type device for reading books, newspapers and websites. Of course, he also cites the difficulty in focusing on reading an e-book like War and Peace when one could so easily switch over to a game of Angry Birds. This is completely the opposite the lauding of interactive books for children as a way to extend the attention to and enjoyment in reading books to those growing up in this digital age (as I referenced in a previous blog post).

Books in some form (cloud, electronic impulses, MP3, paper, papyrus, stone) or another will be here for a good long time.  What bookstores do (usually) is sell new books, both newly published and newly discovered -- say, recommending War and Peace to a young adult who tells you he's ready to go beyond James Patterson.  As newer books get distributed by download and older books are relegated to the antiquarian shops, perhaps booksellers will morph totally into providing a service and not a tangible product, being paid to filter, remember and recommend.

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