In the past I have made my opinions on eBooks very clear, I’ve waxed lyrical about the virtues of bookmarksand my joy and delight in all things solid and real. This love for solidity and realism has made me realise something about which I didn’t bring up in my initial tirade against them, something which in essence is far removed from a simple personal preference, something which has slightly sinister overtones. The rise of the internet and the relentless march of technology and data which followed has made a profound impact on modern life, it has changed the very way we view the world. This change isn’t static either, it’s a change that continues to evolve and shape society. I’m just not entirely sure if it’s a good thing any more.
The internet has done wonders for making data freely available to the masses through sites such as that Wikipedia and the Google. Given a bit of time and effort pretty much anyone can find out about more or less anything. This is without question a good thing. Knowledge is power and should be freely available to everyone and their dog. eBooks have the potential to similarly open the world of literature to the everyone no longer do concerns of a book being out of print have to blight one person quest for knowledge and discovery. There is of course a but, and to me it’s a very big but (heh, big but.) It dawned on me that we might be diluting the very thing we wanted to make available to one and all. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time on the internet will have become familiar with the adage that “you should never believe anything you read on the internet” I tend to take more or less everything with a pinch fo salt these days. The problem is that a lot of the good information is being buried under waves of dross and torrents of bullshit. A world without editing or even the censorship of common sanity has really let the nut-jobs of the world go all out. If you don’t believe me just google “Time Cube”. Even wikipedia has its decriers and that’s supposed to be a good thing designed to help everyone.
Then there’s the matter of the medium itself. A book is a thing of reverence, the burning and destruction of a book is seen to be the mark of an evil and tyrannical regime, the realm of misguided fundamentalists and mad zealots. Were you to ask an average person if they’d burn a book they’d probably say no. If you pushed for an answer they’d probably grope vainly for an answer before giving up and just claiming that it was just “not done” or “plain wrong.” Which it is, the destruction of knowledge is in my books, (heh, puns) the greatest of imaginable sins. We respect books, there’s something almost spiritual in our treatment of them. Perhaps this is a throwback to a time when books, scrolls and writing were predominately used to enshrine the words of Gods, prophets and kings. Books have power.
But what about a website? Or an eBook? Would you have the same compunction over deleting or destroying one of those? Probably not, they’re just data. It’s debatable whether you can really even call them real, in the sense that a traditional book is real. Sure they’re there but it’s not quite the same. I’m concerned that this could gradually lead to the devaluing of the written word and knowledge itself, that one day people will blithely discard or destroy knowledge in a way we would find utterly abhorrent today.
Perhaps I’m just a closet Luddite, too mired in the world of the past, but this is the sort of thing I worry about, the sort of thing which keeps me up at night. Knowledge ultimately made humanity what it is today, without it we’d probably still be swinging from trees throwing our own shit at each other, it’s not something we should ever just take for granted. Be it fiction, non-fiction, fact or whimsy, words are important, words have power. Don’t fuck with words, they’re inside your head and know where you live.
January 23rd, 2012 at 1:16 pm
This debate that has, in one form or another, been around for hundreds of years, maybe even thousands. The horseless carriage will be the end of horses, metal boats will mean the end of trees, farming machines will be the end of man.
Whilst each situation was addressed and passed, we are in the position of being in a transitional phase. It could go any way. We could end up doing away with books and having only new media in eBook format. We could forever have a mix of electronic and paper books, we could even invent a magic book which would be a hybrid ebook / book format that feels like a book but is electronically populated. Technology is a magical thing that man should go back to harnessing for cultural and spiritual development instead of working out how to kill others with and this situation is arguably pivotal. We have been using books in one form or another for YEARS, even supporters of the eBook should be questioning as to if we are moving too quickly.
I love the eBook concept. being able to carry not just stories with me, but technical data and concept works in an e-ink device, but I also enjoy grasping a firm book, taking in its smell and enveloping myself within its pages.
You allude to the concept of knowledge becoming as disposable as the nappies we clad our young in due to a potential evolution of information. This is an interesting concept as you, like so many others, share the concept that “because it’s in a book it must be real / valuable”. Just because it costs a sizeable chunk of money to publish a book, does not automatically validate its content. Whilst yes, it is very easy to find a computer and spread rumours about one or another very quickly, this concept of a book being pure is absurd. What needs to be explored is the very concept of realism. At what point is anything real? Do we define it as something tangible? In that case we can satisfy all with a £40 printer from PC World, or simply use the grandiose system of peer review?
The Current generation has the history of the world on speed dial. They also have the lies of the world on speed dial. What we should teach is the ability to disseminate, not to just trust one source. That’s where wars begin.
January 27th, 2012 at 8:59 pm
It’s not so much the “value” of a book that to me makes it more real, it’s the simple fact that it’s a tangible thing. You can hold it, hit someone with it, use it to prop open the door. It’s very much there. But eBooks and the internet just seem to ephemeral to me, like some sort of ghost or shade of a book, something so much easy to just waft away into nothingness.
I of course hope that I’m wrong. I would love to see a future of technological wonder where irrespective of the form of delivery words and knowledge are respected and held in high esteem.
I do fear that I may have swung too far into the realms of philosophy with my musings, a world I am woefully ill equipped to navigate, but blunder on I did anyway.
As for the hope that the flood of knowledge will teach people to be for discriminating of what they read? If only, that would be a glorious world to live in.
January 23rd, 2012 at 4:39 pm
I suppose, as a person with a literature degree, I’m the wrong person to argue this, but I have a feeling that the “good” stuff will always rise to the top.
Publication (and all that goes with it) has not stopped the Da Vinci Codes, Harry Potters and Twilights of this world from blossoming into horrendous multimedia phenomena.
All I can hope is that better access to a broader spectrum of media will afford those who might not otherwise have had the chance to read weighty literature the opportunity to do so.
Let’s face it, you and I take advantage of the internet’s provision of a place to post just about anything 😉
January 27th, 2012 at 8:50 pm
And the posting of more or less anything on the internet leaves me feeling wracked with guilt for vomiting my inanity into the minds of unsuspecting webnauts. 😛