The Death of The Book

June 12, 2006 at 1:53 pm 4 comments

How much longer are we going to put up with books?  I wonder the percent of information we are receiving from hyperlinked sources vs. paper sources these days.  It’s surely on an upward climb.  From an online text I can immediately spawn innumerable side searches and it’s trivial to search for a word or phrase within the text.  Google is archiving the World’s books, and Amazon has its search-within-the-book feature.  Books and hypermedia are converging somehow.  I find myself stymied more and more often while reading a book by the lack of a search button, ‘now what was that guy’s name?’ or, ‘wait, what does that acronym mean?’I remember reading about the process of developing new/replacement technologies.  First you get the ‘pretender’ that kind of replaces a few things, but still has many disadvantages.  Then you get the killer-app replacement.  So cassette tapes, were the pretender replacement, while CDs were the true replacement for the vinyl record.  Ah, it was The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil, which I found in my outboard brain here.  Seeing the title on my booklist, and suspecting that this is where I could find this discussion, I followed the link to Amazon where I ‘searched inside’ the book for ‘pretender.’  I’d never have found this without being able to search.  “Where in the life cycle is the book?  ….The false pretender is the eBook.” I want to be able to spawn ghosts like in Stross’s Accelerando.Basically, I’ve been annotating the books I’m reading here.  Mostly I pull from links to other information; the sources mentioned by the author.  While I’m reading one [paper] book, I can’t simply click a link to view the source, so I make a note of it to look at later. Ah, but there’s just something about being able to dog-ear a page for later….


Entry filed under: feed my pet brain.

More Findable Annotations Newspaper sans paper

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Feed My Pet Brain » Newspaper sans paper  |  June 13, 2006 at 8:00 am

    […] Immediately after thinking about the death of the book, I read this article, “Electronic Newspapers Just around the Corner,” about electronic newspapers: “The newspapers of the future – cheap digital screens that can be rolled up and stuffed into a back pocket – have been just around the corner for the last three decades.  But as early as this year, the future may finally arrive.” […]

  • 2. Howard Fireman  |  June 17, 2006 at 1:55 am

    I belong to a very small synagogue. I recently wrote the rabbi there about improving the quality of our library. The books are dated and the representation of books for history, customs, traditions, etc. is spotty at best. The rabbi said that what we had was okay. That when kids at the Sunday school where I teach can just as easily go to the internet for info. And if they actually needed tor research a subject they could go to the libraries at other religious institutions. HIs answer disappointed me
    In short, he was essentially saying that what we had was okay, didn’t need to be improved. And in a way, he was saying that our library as a repository for books was something of an anachronism in these times and had lost some of its value.

    I love the feel and the presence of books. I have a pretty large library of my own. I am really saddened as books now become just one of many types of media to which we can go to get info. But in my mind, nothing will ever adequately replace the book in in our world.

    Howard Fireman
    Houston, Texas

  • 3. futhermet  |  June 19, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    I understand and echo your sentiment. Books and libraries are a couple of my favorite things. When I walk into a bookstore or library I consciously have to stop looking at the spine of every book, each cover, each title, or I’d never leave! Tales like Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Foucault’s Pendulum fascinate me – The Book plays the center stage. Bibliophile, I think is the right term.

    I can’t read and enjoy a story online like I can a Real Book. I understand and comprehend hardcopy texts better than online versions.

    Yet. I have a bad habit of reading too quickly. Reading fiction, I end up scrolling back to remember a character’s name, or something about the plot. Or reading non-fiction, invariably there will be a point I don’t understand unless I find supporting information somewhere else in the book. In the former, there is rarely any sort of information architecture supporting re-finding, e.g. an index (except if you’re reading Tolkien). In the latter, indices and table of contents help quite a bit, but in both cases full text search would be so nice.

    And more, what I’m doing on this site, annotating books as I read them. Sure I can mark them up if I own them (and even if I don’t) but the space in the margin is finite and if I scribble somewhere else, my notes are distinct from the text, not embedded or associated with it. What trouble Fermat would have saved the world if his margins were infinitely expandable (I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain –'s_last_theorem). 

    I can’t immediately visit all the supporting information listed in the footnotes or in the bibliography. And consider collaborative annotation. Wouldn’t it be interesting if thousands of people’s comments and thoughts that occurred to them while reading a given text were somehow available. Maybe these comments could be ranked or voted on and the high quality insightful comments would rise to the surface. Sort of like the ‘threshold’ for comments on Slashdot.

    Maybe this is the idea behind Amazon implementing discussion boards and wikis as well as their recommendation features.

    As they’ve always been, books are a sort of beginning, a piece of the puzzle to something larger. They form the foundation of course curriculum for example. What would it look like if books, real books, could be hyperlinked, annotated, blogged, wikied…? And how long would it actually take to finish a book?

    As far as organization goes, I wonder if you’ve heard of librarything ( which allows you to catalog the books in your library with associated tags. There’s a social aspect as well, which pulls together comments from other readers.

    I can’t imagine a world without books, but I wonder about our children. Sans the traditional book, what do they lose and what do they gain?

  • 4. Digital notes « Feed My Pet Brain  |  September 15, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    […] I was thinking about how Kurzweil mentions CDs are the real replacement for the vinyl record, not audio cassettes which were the false pretenders, or how e-books are false pretender replacements for “real books.”  Really, I think CDs are pretenders too, as evidenced every time I throw away a scratched disc.  Instead I think solid state storage like USB drives in MP3 players are the true replacement technology. […]


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