Re: why books?

Subject: Re: why books?
From: Susan Stewart <susan -at- AVALANCHE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 1994 16:28:07 -0600

This message is heart-felt, if not prompt. It's also long-ish and
full of opinions. Be forewarned.

Many, many messages ago Rick Lippincott said (about some folks'
aversion to books/documentation on-line):

> I think that this is a normal response people have with any change to
> technology. Some people reject TV because the prefer the ability of a radio
> drama to stir the imagination. Some people reject CDs because they say a
> vinyl LP has "warmth." Some writers reject computers because they claim they
> like the sound of a typewriter. When the printing press was invented, many
> people probably cited the advantages of a hand-written manuscript.

Well, I think that some people probably do have this kind of response.
I also think that there are probably as many people having the
Whoa,-slick-new-toys!-I-want-one! response as there are technological
reactionaries. Which camp seems credulous and which well-informed depends
on which camp you're in. ;)

There was an interesting article in the New York Times Book Review,
recently -- "Are These Books, or What? CD-ROM and the Literary
Industry" (I'd tell you when it came out but the copy I have has no
date on it). It's a thoughtful and thought provoking piece. It gave
some shape to the amorphous ideas I had about this topic.

I love words, whether they be spoken, printed, or flashed on the
screen. My personal predilection (at least for reading anything more
than a page or two at a time) is for old-fashioned books. Not because
I'm frightened of change or of technology but because I enjoy the
tactile part of the experience.

One of the reasons I came to work for my current employer is that the
technology is tied up with words and ideas and information. We help
people go on-line. Our software is geared toward managing and
leveraging the value of electronic information -- whether that
information is prose or fiction, database, or graphic, or what.
I'm comfortable promoting this new technology because I
can see how many truly useful applications it has. Technology
making our lives easier, you know?

So -- I have ties to both sides of this debate. What it comes down to
(for me, anyway) is that this isn't an either/or situation. Will books
go away? I don't think so. Does this mean that the electronic
information industry won't grow and flourish? Of course not. As the
Book Review article pointed out, what matters is content. The kind of
format or presentation we, as purveyors and consumers of that content,
will choose will depend on comfort level, accessibility, efficiency,
and many other factors and will change from instance to instance.

Electronic and traditional books don't cancel one another out, they
(can) coexist peacefully and also augment and amplify one another.
The question isn't which is the better tool but which is the better
tool in each particular instance.

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