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Papyralysis
December 3, 2013 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Are paper books becoming obsolete in the digital age, or poised to lead a new cultural renaissance?

so let's try something old&new.


"And everyone agrees: the book is next to go."
"Paper is starting to feel like a Luddite affectation, on par with mustache wax or making your own yogurt. ... have to explain to your kids."
"Can we think our way back to a time before the great digitization?"
"macula in the human eye."
"A large parchment codex"
"Michael Marullus kept a copy of Lucretius under his armor"
"lamb black and sulfur"
"the supposed essence of literature than a spoken performance"
"If Tolstoy had a Flickr stream"
"what line of poetry Virginia Woolf Googled"
"That is, if there are archives in the future."
"Each day we send 2.5 exabytes of information into the ether."
"The novels of the next millennium will be assembled out of this trove according to pre-set templates."
"Philip M. Parker has created a program that writes books on hundreds of thousands of topics on demand"
"The current attempts at machine-led literary analysis and production"
"my grandfather left the shtetl to fight in the war"
"the science of cybernetics"
"Think of those poor Yugoslav bards studied by Milman Parry who lost all their epics when they learned to read the newspaper."
"But the written word is a virus."
posted by the man of twists and turns (31 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been putting all my stock into books on 8-Track.
posted by mediocre at 6:50 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


All the cool kids digitize their books, pipe it through a UUCP filter, then to /dev/audio and cut a custom vinyl record. Reverse the process to read or just listen to the best white noise house beat.
posted by sammyo at 7:09 PM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Paper is starting to feel like a Luddite affectation

Like non-electronic instruments, right?

Speaking of affectations...
posted by weston at 7:10 PM on December 3, 2013


Yes! Embrace the future! Rid yourself of those paper anchors!

Specifically any specimens of the original Anchor line of trade paperbacks designed by Edward Gorey! They're worthless! Send 'em along to me! I know just what to do with trash like that! Especially if the spines are intact and sun damage is minimal!

And once you've emptied your library, I'll take care of the shelves left over in return for a small consideration! I'll dispose of 'em according to their deserts! You just worry about the shipping!
posted by Iridic at 7:17 PM on December 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


I only read artisanally.
posted by hwestiii at 7:18 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good lord, that first link is windbag nonsense. I award the author no points, and may God have mercy on his soul.
posted by graphnerd at 7:29 PM on December 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are paper books becoming obsolete in the digital age, or poised to lead a new cultural renaissance?

There are but two options in Linkbaitland.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 7:40 PM on December 3, 2013 [27 favorites]


Well, anyway, I sure do like books.
posted by brennen at 7:56 PM on December 3, 2013


I enjoyed homemade yogurt with homemade granola for breakfast, reread the outsider porn section of Role Models in a scalding hot bath and laughed my ass off with a 24-hour music video playing in the background on my tablet perched on a little easel on the toilet seat, shaved with homemade shave soap and a '51 Gillette and waxed my mustache this morning, and man, for someone with pronounced luddite affectations, I sure have a shitload of computers, tablets, iOS devices, Arduinos, Raspberry PIs, and synthesizers around the house.

As I'm sorting out a carburetor problem on my '72 Triumph Daytona with a combination of the original manual and notes from a brit bike mechanic, a shop manual on an iPad, and a series of Youtube videos of people sorting out similar problems, I'm more inclined to think that technologies in the golden world of the future will sort themselves out by how well they work, which means sometimes we touch our tablets for magic and light and other times, it's the wrench, the page, and the well-stropped razor. On week-long trip to Georgia, I left the digital camera home and took a well kept Balda Baldessa 1A which I metered with an app on an iPod Touch because I missed the intentionality of film photography with a manual camera.

In the future, only obsolescence is obsolete.
posted by sonascope at 7:56 PM on December 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


Actually, long before the ebook controversies arose, after a couple moves where I carried quite a few boxes of books down and up many stairs, I determined to minimize all purchases. Other than reference books I'd check two library systems first. I was doing well, then SO discovered yard sales had a different variety of "reference".

I love love love having dozens and dozens of books with me almost all the time.
posted by sammyo at 8:05 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Radio didn't replace newspapers and TV didn't replace radio. It seems to me that most new media and communications technologies push their predecessors out of the limelight, but usually don't kill them.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:02 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only issue is that getting a device to read books on comfortably can be difficult if you're poor. I had a bad couple of months where I lost my job, broke my Kindle 3, and lost my Kindle Fire all in a short span of time. Having sold off most of my physical books so as to avoid lugging them around every time I move, I suddenly found myself pretty much bookless, if not for the public library. Ebook readers are (or were, this is roughly a year ago) slightly too expensive for someone saving their money up for food, rent, and the occasional night out to justify.

Sell a $25 ebook reader that's reliable and readable, though, and paper books are done.
posted by maus at 9:29 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Paper fiction might be done but not even Retina display can compete with laying out all my 4-color photo, large format, design reference books with post-it notes bookmarking dozens of pages on the floor around me when I'm working.

I love my Nook; it's a god-send for traveling when I can download my local library books from halfway around the world.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:21 PM on December 3, 2013


I assume books will become obsolete right after the paperless office becomes reality...
posted by SAnderka at 10:32 PM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


maus: "The only issue is that getting a device to read books on comfortably can be difficult if you're poor."

maus: "Sell a $25 ebook reader that's reliable and readable, though, and paper books are done."

E-book readers are breakable and delicate compared to books. They require charging and therefore electricity. If you damage or lose your device, you lose the ability to read ALL of your books. The devices' planned obsolescence is quite rapid, enforced by warranty/software upgrades/tech support.

E-books require trust in a computerized system to recognize your "ownership." They require your consent to track your purchases and link them to your name. You need internet access. And a credit card.

I can think of so very many situations and people that fit into the above, just off the top of my head, just from my personal experience. E-book readers are difficult for lots of people, and a cheap one won't render paper books "done." Not that I'm anti device at all, just, as Triplanetary noted above, new technologies rarely completely replace the old.
posted by desuetude at 10:36 PM on December 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are but two options in Linkbaitland.

And now I have Adam Sandler's "Lunch Lady Land" with Chris Farley dancing for accompaniment stuck in my head.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:37 PM on December 3, 2013


The only issue is that getting a device to read books on comfortably can be difficult if you're poor.

Not that smart phones are cheap, but they are a good replacement for a kindle (if you don't mind reading on a smaller screen) and even poor people tend to have them as they're rapidly becoming indispensable.

I've been using my phone as an ereader a lot and for me it works.

What doesn't yet work for me is actually wanting to pay for my ebooks at the prices most publishers seem to publish them for.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:38 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can have my real books when you pry them from my cold, dead hands. Probably literally given how often I read.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 AM on December 4, 2013


I will say, my Kindle has replaced my purchases of mediocre genre paperbacks and fluffy, popular non-fiction. It has not replaced my purchases of programming and design books. It's pretty much indisputably better for the former type of book—especially mass market paperbacks, because who really wants to get disgusting ink all over their hands while they try to read tiny print on bad paper?—but also indisputably worse for the latter. When you might need to flip back and forth repeatedly, ebook readers suck.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:56 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was a long holdout against ereaders, but Gutenberg won me over to a hybrid appreciation of the things. I've got a Nook Simple Touch, which feels good in the hand and has a nice sharp non-illuminated e-ink display (because I don't want to keep burning my retinas out on glowy screens) and a slot for a micro SD card that I've filled with a 32 gig card that could pretty much hold the lost library of Alexandria, and when I want to read any of the works of the great literature of history, I've got it all in my hand.

I don't recognize Sonny Bono/DisneyCorp's fucked-up copyright law atrocities, either, so if an author's dead, I'll DL that book without no qualms (yes, scions of the creative class, you're going to need to get a job), and it goes into my magical HHGTTG pocket library.

If I want a book by a current author, though, I'll be goddamned if I'm paying eleven bucks for an intangible and non-archival cloud of data unless it's all going straight to the author (see also: it's not). I'll pay eleven bucks for the paper, and have something I can hold and read and file on my bookshelves.

Besides, I'm a strong believer in a certain maxim about books:

If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!
― John Waters

I'm certainly not going to take the time to inspect someone's collection on their iPad before I go to the effort to put on all that leather, for pete's sake.
posted by sonascope at 5:06 AM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


heh. the name on my Kindle is don't' panic.
posted by sio42 at 5:20 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"With no qualms," I mean. Haven't had my giant flagon of green tea yet.
posted by sonascope at 5:41 AM on December 4, 2013


There are interesting ideas on all sides of the issue in the main link, but not much of any sort of argument. Still, the early "Everything has become archivable" paired with the later "Electronic information lasts forever — until someone turns off the light" is deeply misleading and glosses over the serious problems we're seeing with digital migration right now as formats evolve without backwards compatibility, even with the lights on. Here's a previous thread about that point, which doesn't get the attention it should in discussions like this.

It's a complex and multi-faceted set of issues, this so-called obsolescence of paper, and it's not going to happen anytime soon. Instead, we get what this Publishers Weekly article about the slowing growth in ebook sales calls "a more stable and rational hybrid market...one publishers could live with," where "e-books have become another format, much like audiobooks and paperbacks." It notes consumer data showing that even consumers who own both tablets and dedicated e-readers "tend to split their book purchases evenly between print and digital."

That said, and somewhat tangentially, I liked this Harvard Business Review piece rolling its eyes at the "needlessly dismayed" media reaction to New York Mag dropping from 42 to 29 issues a year while at the same time hiring 15 new people on its digital side, where growth has been great.
posted by mediareport at 5:58 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If all books new and used left the marketplace tomorrow, I would still have enough paper books to last me the rest of my life. Like a champion.
posted by Billiken at 6:32 AM on December 4, 2013


> Good lord, that first link is windbag nonsense. I award the author no points, and may God have mercy on his soul.

No kidding. I find the topic interesting, if overdiscussed, and was willing to read a long essay if it was thoughtful and provided new perspectives, but this was just an endless rehash of all the standard half-baked responses. I raised my eyebrows at "Paper is starting to feel like a Luddite affectation, on par with mustache wax or making your own yogurt" (how exactly is mustache wax Luddite?) and eventually gave up entirely.

I have no idea what the rest of the links are doing in this post; frankly, they look like padding, but if anyone wants to point out a particularly worthy one I'll be glad to try it out.
posted by languagehat at 7:41 AM on December 4, 2013


In the future, only obsolescence is obsolete.

I would like to shine this comment's shoes and take it's dog for a walk.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:47 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


desuetude :

> E-book readers are breakable and delicate compared to books. They require charging and therefore electricity.
> If you damage or lose your device, you lose the ability to read ALL of your books. The devices' planned
> obsolescence is quite rapid, enforced by warranty/software upgrades/tech support.

In short. they need to be so cheap they're disposable.

> E-books require trust in a computerized system to recognize your "ownership." They require your consent
> to track your purchases and link them to your name. You need internet access. And a credit card.

hehhehhehhehhehhehheh.

Seriously, two-pronged attack: 1) don't think of a book as an app with lots of pasted-on "features" to lock it to the system you bought it for (I'm thinking of electronic bookmarks, electronic highlighting, "you've read this far" completion bars, all that kind of shite) And 2) forego the lastest bestsellers. The quintessential ebook is a .txt file from gutenberg or archive.org. Or for the ungovernably flashy, an html file. With PIX!!


maus:

> Sell a $25 ebook reader that's reliable and readable, though, and paper books are done.

I've already posted a couple of times that my "it's disposable" price is $39.95, that being the price point at which I'm totally ready to risk bricking the thing while trying to jailbreak it and turn it into a full android (or whatever) tablet. $25? Gimme half a dozen o dem fukers. I'll have the jailbreak exploit for you by morning.
posted by jfuller at 9:15 AM on December 4, 2013


I live to read for an hour or two before sleep at night. I've found it an excellent way to prepare for sleep. Only standard paper books will do for this, as screens are bad for my insomnia. I have no real fear of books disappearing anytime soon. But then, I'm getting old now. So I'm pretty sure real books will be around for my remaining time here. There is a kindle in my household, but I've never used it for reading.
posted by DarkForest at 11:36 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wonder if there was this much handwringing for so long when bookbinding was invented and the scroll's future was in doubt.
posted by Foosnark at 11:55 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


mediareport: ""Electronic information lasts forever — until someone turns off the light""

I believe bit rot would like a word, also.

I seriously fear we're going to have another Library of Alexandria level loss of info with all this digital stuff and no way to make it last for any real length of time.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:41 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sell a $25 ebook reader that's reliable and readable, though, and paper books are done.

Disagree. I grant you that a good deal of disposable writing will never get onto paper (and may eventually disappear along with the silent movies of old), but the advantages of ebooks are simply not marked enough to supersede paper books entirely (never mind the advantages of paper books that ebooks cannot replicate). Even if it's only print on demand, paper will survive.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:16 PM on December 8, 2013


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