I know that I travel within a community full of bibliophiles. We love books. We like how they look, how they smell, how they feel, and we’re terrified of losing them to the internet and e-readers. But I’m here to talk to that technophobe that’s living and breathing (and sometimes kicking and screaming) inside of many of us and I think I’m comfortable saying: Don’t panic, relax!
You’ll have to forgive that completely non-related “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” reference; I’m currently watching the old BBC show and couldn’t help myself!
“The Chronicle” recently posted a great article titled “5 Myths About the ‘Information Age‘” by Robert Darnton that answered point blank to a lot of these fears, mainly that books will soon be “dead.” In his response Darnton notes that
More books are produced in print each year than in the previous year. One million new titles will appear worldwide in 2011.
But it’s part of his closing statements that really make the point I’ve been waiting for someone, other than myself, to make:
I mention these misconceptions because I think they stand in the way of understanding shifts in the information environment. They make the changes appear too dramatic. They present things ahistorically and in sharp contrasts—before and after, either/or, black and white. A more nuanced view would reject the common notion that old books and e-books occupy opposite and antagonistic extremes on a technological spectrum. Old books and e-books should be thought of as allies, not enemies.
And this is where I see the biggest problems. Our fears, that are most likely ultimately unfounded, are only helping to reinforce (what else) our fears. This is nothing new. As a species, we are made uncomfortable by change mostly because it’s unknown what will come from it.
However, I’d like to suggest the not all too radical notion that we start figuring out what those unknowns will be, by looking for the positive possibilities for change that have been seriously lacking in some cases of this argument.
You can’t love your iPad or other e-readers and curse the technology that gave them to you at the same time. Or rather, you can, but what good does it do?
“The New Yorker” just published a similar article called “The Information:How the Internet gets inside us,” by Adam Gopnik where he succinctly puts it (with highlights added by yours truly):
That the reality of machines can outpace the imagination of magic, and in so short a time, does tend to lend weight to the claim that the technological shifts in communication we’re living with are unprecedented. It isn’t just that we’ve lived one technological revolution among many; it’s that our technological revolution is the big social revolution that we live with. The past twenty years have seen a revolution less in morals, which have remained mostly static, than in means: you could already say “fuck” on HBO back in the eighties; the change has been our ability to tweet or IM or text it. The set subject of our novelists is information; the set obsession of our dons is what it does to our intelligence.
And he makes a good point. Technology doesn’t just change our daily activities or how we find out about certain things, it changes our entire lives and, therefore, our lifeviews.
I know certain adults who still refuse to accept e-mail and those who think that the whole “blogging thing,” is less than. While I see that there has been a flourish of serious writers writing seriously, using the internet as a way to connect to audiences as quickly as possible, it is a space that is still marginalized by many academics and self-proclaimed luddites.
While Gopnik goes on to break these reactions into an understandable social-structure, and I highly suggest reading it all—he makes some interesting points, my main point is this: we read books for many reasons but chief among those reasons (for many of us) is to learn, to open our eyes to new ways of thinking, to new perspectives, and new voices. If this is our goal and e-books and internet writing can do this just as successfully, if not more, who are we to focus only on its faults?
Why are those who would still rather ignore such positive possibilities and focus on the negative doldrums. I may be idealistic but I’d rather be that than my other options.