My neighbor passed along a link today that i found exciting and a bit sad at the same time. It talks about how the latest generation of e-book readers (specifically the Kindle) are finally changing the book authoring/publishing/reading landscape in a way that hasn’t happened since Gutenberg. A bold claim, i know. But he has some pretty compelling arguments.One point that i found kind of sad, but probably true was the fact that with books being available and searchable online, it’s only a matter of time until books become like any other web content. People can comment on individual paragraphs, and even sentences. Debate about the meaning or relevance or whatever else they feel like saying. This in turn will cause authors and publishers to change the way they write so that their searched and indexed meta-books can rank higher in the search results and thus sell more books. Why is that sad? Well, it’s awesome, obviously. It’s like having a global book club on any book you read, but it’s also sad in that you no longer have the solitary, deeply immersive experience that you have with a traditional book. Although i’d argue that you still can, you just need to set aside time for it and resist the temptation to constantly jump online to view and/or comment on what you’re reading. (or maybe read the book twice; the first time alone, the second time to go online and experience the community aspect). As usual, i’ll quote a bunch of the good bits in case the permalink ever stops working, but i’d highly suggest reading the article yourself:
You can check out the full article here
It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible. For starters, think about what happened because of the printing press: The ability to duplicate, and make permanent, ideas that were contained in books created a surge in innovation that the world had never seen before. Now, the ability to digitally search millions of books instantly will make finding all that information easier yet again. Expect ideas to proliferate — and innovation to bloom — just as it did in the centuries after Gutenberg. an infinite bookstore at your fingertips is great news for book sales, and may be great news for the dissemination of knowledge, but not necessarily so great for that most finite of 21st-century resources: attention. Because they have been largely walled off from the world of hypertext, print books have remained a kind of game preserve for the endangered species of linear, deep-focus reading. Online, you can click happily from blog post to email thread to online New Yorker article — sampling, commenting and forwarding as you go. But when you sit down with an old-fashioned book in your hand, the medium works naturally against such distractions; it compels you to follow the thread, to stay engaged with a single narrative or argument. With books becoming part of this universe, “booklogs” will prosper, with readers taking inspiring or infuriating passages out of books and commenting on them in public. Google will begin indexing and ranking individual pages and paragraphs from books based on the online chatter about them. Think of it as a permanent, global book club. As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading. Nobody will read alone anymore. Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity — a direct exchange between author and reader — to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world. The unity of the book will disperse into a multitude of pages and paragraphs vying for Google’s attention. In this world, citation will become as powerful a sales engine as promotion is today. A world in which search attracts new book readers also will undoubtedly change the way books are written, just as the serial publishing schedule of Dickens’s day led to the obligatory cliffhanger ending at the end of each installment.