Books 4ever

Back with more tomorrow, or possibly even later today, but for now a pointer to James Gleick's wonderful essay in the New York Times about books and obsolescence and the Google Books deal (which he helped negotiate):

As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete. Even when builders pound nails by the thousand with pneumatic nail guns, every household needs a hammer. Likewise, the bicycle is alive and well. It was invented in a world without automobiles, and for speed and range it was quickly surpassed by motorcycles and all kinds of powered scooters. But there is nothing quaint about bicycles. They outsell cars.

Of course, plenty of other stuff is destined for obsolescence. For more than a century the phonograph record was almost the only practical means of reproducing sound — and thus the basis of a multibillion-dollar industry. Now it’s just an oddity. Hardly anyone in the music business is sanguine about the prospects for CDs, either.

Now, at this point one expects to hear a certain type of sentimental plea for the old-fashioned book — how you like the feel of the thing resting in your hand, the smell of the pages, the faint cracking of the spine when you open a new book — and one may envision an aesthete who bakes his own bread and also professes to prefer the sound of vinyl. That’s not my argument. I do love the heft of a book in my hand, but I spend most of my waking hours looking at — which mainly means reading from — a computer screen. I’m just saying that the book is technology that works.
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