Throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Its nice to hear/read reference to the technology of paper and books. One of the newest growth industries is digitizing thousands, okay, millions of square yards of medical records is big business. Ogilvy (one of the big-old gray matter Madison Avenue ad companies) opened a department that services and markets your medical records— digitally—on your iPhone.

In a delightful meeting with Elizabeth H. Dow, Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Science, Louisiana State University the subject of digitizing information and its impact on stacks (those buckling shelves in libraries that contain books.) Elizabeth is on the cutting edge of making print information electronic, she made the curriculum, and in a spirited cry said "but don't destroy the books!"

There are experiential and practical reasons for storing the original manuscripts, records and books. On a practical level, to date there is still no stable electronic media. Further, even the most stable may not have a retrieval system in a few years. Think of floppy disks, Syquests and Zip drives. If you don't have the driver to read your disc (or the original manuscript) your "records" are toast (gone).

On the warm and fuzzy level, reading from paper is delightful and serves a different set of emotions than reading from digital media:

So, please, don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Keep reading, looking at and enjoying books.


This makes me think of the book "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge. It's set about 20 years in the future and one of the central conflicts involves a technique that can, at a cost much lower than other methods, digitize an entire library full of books in a matter of days. On one hand, you end up with very faithful, high resolution digital copy of every book that can be accessed by anyone anywhere in the world. On the other hand, the original books are literally and violently devoured in the process. A very good and thought provoking book, and not just the part about digitizing libraries. It manages to be simultaneously inspiring and frightening.

Books are great. But fetishizing them isn't. And feverishly latching on to our physical or psychological prejudices is weak. Things die - it's natural.

"Other people should keep reading books forever because I grew up with them and I've become emotionally attached to that ritual" is exactly the sort of self-centered capricious indulgence that impedes social progress.

Somewhat related:



Love the handwriting article and thanks for the first one. There's as much conversation about the death of cursive as there is about why books are obsolete. For a while I was hearing that children are no longer being taught to write but very recently I have learned that this is not so.

hrant: Did you read the article I posted, "Hamletts-Blackberry..." its pretty impressive. While digital technology brings information faster and faster, the experience of ink on paper utilizes different parts of the brain and human emotion. Yes, it is slower and demands different behavioral skills that I believe we should not throw away. For instance, why is it that there are more and more book arts programs in the universities? If there were not a need or attraction to the romances of the experience of a book, the book subject would not be so popular to younger and smarter individuals.

This is an interesting conversation. With the advent of Amazon's Kindle (gen 2.0), people are claiming that books are obsolete. This claim also occurred around 5-8 years ago with the "e-book." Anyone have one of those? Not surprisingly, this concept has yet to really become the full-fledged standard for reading.

My two cents:
Nothing will ever replace books. I love reading, love buying books, love owning books, and love talking about books. This will never be replaced by reading the same material online and my reasoning is as follows:
I work at an ad agency that is making the move to digital and as one of the few digital user experience designers, I find it fascinating that people try to simply throw a pdf onto a computer screen and expect it to be fine. These are two very different experiences. No matter how "user friendly" you make it, people will not read online. It just doesn't work.

What society likes to declare obsolete does not interest me, just like what society considers hip does not turn me on (iTard, anyone?). What does interest me is the evolution of functionality, and the leveraging of that to help society (in spite of itself).

Just because something cannot be fully replaced does not mean it will always be a good idea to preserve it. I'm sure writing on cuneiform tablets offered an experience quite unlike -and in some ways superior to- using a pen, but it still had to die. And soon the pen will have to die. And eventually nobody will miss it. As Bruce Sterling* has succinctly said: "For things to happen, things must vanish." Serving the future generations requires us to part with childish, cozy nostalgia. It is like the unavoidability of death. Let's not emulate those vapid Oil of Olay insolents who declare: "I will not grow old gracefully!"


I personally read quite heavily onscreen (and benefit greatly
from that) but I also print my own letterpress business cards.


dear hrant,

sorry i missed your response.

i have a few questions if you are still on this thread:

first (not a question) i think we feel similarly about evolution. i, too, am interested in functionality and how a function plays out in society. my question for you is, why do you read what i write as "nostalgia" and "cozy"? is an old technology (print on paper) automatically nostalgic and cozy just because it is old? part of evolution is adaptation but not all things that evolve die. mankind evolves by adaptation. as do some birds but not all. we die as individuals but adaptation moves us forward as a species.

how many newspapers bit the dust this past week? that's like some birds becoming extinct. but we still have birds.

this brings me to my second question:

your business card, why? why have one at all?

so, maybe newspapers are no longer the most practical form of news transferal and its okay for them to go away. but, why do we—and you included in "we" because you use a business card—continue to find functionality and merit in print on paper?

> why do you read what i write as “nostalgia” and “cozy”?

I'm more interested in society's big problems, not the foibles of individuals, so actually I wasn't necessarily addressing anything directly related to your post/thoughts (although perhaps Libby's was in fact a catalyst). And you might agree that warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia is something that big chunks of society exhibit; and to me it causes people to intellectually vegetate on the sofa of their psyche, gorging on Rocky Road and watching their wedding video from the previous century.

> not all things that evolve die.

Yes, but everything dies eventually.
Including entire species, genera, phyla...

> your business card, why? why have one at all?

That's an exceptionally good question. Maybe to leverage people's weakness? Including my own? Like I love lard, even though I know it's bad for me.


hi hrant,

thanks for responding.

"nostolgia": i am no fan of couch potatoes but disagree that nostalgia equates with lassitude. unfortunately, we now have "big chunks of society", when in more rigorous times the planet held so many fewer people. i often think of suburbs and housing complexes as people warehouses—what are all those people doing?—big box stores and many universities and colleges seem now to be services and processing facilities for the product of over population.

what interests me is the functionality of print and HOW it functions, what it does and how it does this. i think print and digital enhance each other's experience and use, which is what i keep writing about.

> what are all those people doing?

What the system tells them to.
About 90% of people are livestock.

> what interests me is the functionality of print and ...

Certainly personal interest is a key ingredient in anything a human does. I would add that anything anybody does strikes some balance between personal pleasure and social responsibility. And the suitability of a given balance is personal, nebulous and dynamic - which makes it very difficult to give good advice!