As a follow up to my post on why I’m probably not going to get a Kindle, I wanted to suggest a couple of interesting WordPress posts that showed up in my feed last week, as if in answer to my stubborn refusal to let go of physical books.
The first is from the excellent blog Natural Zero, which covers a variety of topics, titled “Is the Print Media Dead?“. In it, Mae suggests that the real difference between print and digital media is the dichotomy between permanence and ephemerality. It’s an interesting meditation about how we treat things that are printed in books with an almost exalted reverence, as if publishing = truth. Things that appear online are often taken with a grain of salt, but in a book? When The Lord of the Rings was first translated into a variety of European languages, one country tried to publish an introduction to the book that contained innumerable falsehoods. Luckily, Tolkien was able to persuade the publishers to rethink their fiction, but if he hadn’t been successful, that’s information that anyone could rattle off and back up with a print citation. Scary stuff.
In that case, the grain of salt that comes with an order of digital media is probably a good thing – it pushes people to find multiple sources for information, decreasing trust. But it comes at a price. Knowledge becomes a slippery fish, impossible to grasp with any solidity. As Mae puts it:
Magazines and newspapers are meant to be more ephemeral; they’re constantly updating and the latest editions have a shelf life of maybe a month or two, or maybe less than a day. That’s where the “death” of print is going to be felt the most. For other print products, we’re still going to see a decrease. But print isn’t dead; it’s just shifting into a more novel form of media.
I’m still musing over whether I like this or not.
The second article is from MJ Wright’s blog, called “How to Win with Writing’s Digital Revolution” (and this is another excellent, excellent blog to check out). This piece offers a more moderate view than you typically see in article like this, and is in that way kind of radical in its rationality. Digital media isn’t necessarily going to steamroll over print books, nor is it just a passing fad. We don’t have to pick sides and adopt the mindset of a seasoned dodgeball player.
Instead, he suggests that the two can coexist peacefully, and we can all benefit from both.
Conceptually, we’re looking at complementary channels of communication; and we need to develop a mind-set that says ‘publishing’ means ‘publishing by any medium’. I can envisage buyers wanting to enjoy print but still buy an e-edition to have convenience on the move. Or an e-edition might offer additional content.
I think most people work like this. I receive a few magazines in the mail and get others online. I read a lot of books in print, but am happy with PDFs for journal articles (although if I really like one, I do still print it out so I can mark it up by hand). I handwrite my notes on a first run, and then type them up into something sensible later.
Perhaps we just have more tools now, and it would be best to use them all, rather than just picking one or the other. It’s easy to forget that the idea we have of books as a mainstream form of communication isn’t quite the entrenched tradition it seems. For most of our written history, books were rare. In another anecdote about Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings almost didn’t get published because there wasn’t enough paper readily available to print a book of that length in any great number. And that’s incredibly recent, historically speaking.
Maybe I’ll get a Kindle after all!