So much is said and written about the ‘demise’ of the book these days. However, amongst the media hype and one-eyed negativism that sometimes abounds – there are also rational evangelists who focus on knowledge, culture and the role of digitised text in extending the possibilities for humanity.
At a recent conference hosted by the Association of Independent Schools, I encountered just such an evangelist. Sherman Young, who writes The Book is Dead blog as a companion to his book by the same title (download the first chapter), tantalized the audience with his presentation ‘The Book is Dead’.
Sherman kept the BOOK right in perspective – both past forms and future possibilities were discussed.
Book culture is too often confused with reading culture – and it is this reading culture that Sherman explained as ‘long-form’ text. A book is a process – it requires time to write and time to read. A book makes premium demands of authors and readers: a writer can reflect and dig deeper into ideas, subtly constructing reality, thereby encouraging analysis, thought, reflection. In fact, in a book the creation of a new reality is delegated to the reader.
Sherman reminded us that in fact BOOKS HAVE BEEN DIGITAL FOR ABOUT 20 YEARS!!
Eureka! Of course books have been digital – once we got rid of hot metal presses, and moved to typesetting then desktop publishing, all books were digital first, then adapted to be printed.
Now the digital books are getting sophisticated and devices have emerged that make them easy to read. In addition, books are being digitised the world over to share, and to facilitate learning and research. Take a look at the Rare Book Room, and think about the value of this type of easy access to our literary and knowledge heritage.
In an online world we can and have to ensure that books remain – it’s about what books have done that counts. Even Google books are a way of ensuring that books survive.
Of course we also have text that is about communication in short form and speed. Text is everywhere online.
According to Sherman,
books are people thinking; online text, like Twitter, are people talking.
We need books. Even in the 21st century we need places and spaces to slow down, and books to read as ‘long text’.
I wound up the conference with my presentation. It was great to conclude an exciting day that, incidentally, kicked off with a fantastic skyed presentation from Will Richardson on transforming learning in education. Will’s a bit of a star at getting people sitting on the edge of their seats, and so people were pretty much buzzing making it easy for me to do a wrap that followed his vision, and also bounced off the exciting ideas that Sherman shared.
As ‘one of their own’ it was my job to try and challenge all the teacher-librarians to go on back to school and work hard at ‘keeping up with every(E)thing. Oh, and my view is that the book is not dead – it’s just adapting!
When video came in remember the mantra the cinema would be gone. Books will evolve but i suspect that printed books will still be around. The Naysayers are so tedious and libraries swill survive in one form or other. All th prediction about radio going, cinema and TV have all fallen into a heap. New inventions come but the worthy stuff still hangs around, I am thinking of an ebook reader myself and I am not an early adopter more like a slug. However I am hankering to buy an iphone
I agree with so much in your posting. I do believe we compartmentalize reading too much between books, virtual information in print but I also believe we need both. I read a study recently that mentioned that those who exclusively read on the web tend to mentally jump back and forth quickly whereas reading a print publication or book tends to take us into the deeper stages of thinking. And those higher level thinking skills and what I call “thinking, wondering and pondering” are where problem solving occurs.
There’s also a good article about this from several years ago in the Atlantic Magazine (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/).
A new book is out on the subject, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-06-06/books/21658661_1_synapses-brains-neural).
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Jude – Your slides just keep getting more and more beautiful. Any chance you could record audio for this? I’m happy if you don’t want to sync it…just do the little “Tinkerbelle waves her magic wand” bell noise and I can advance the slide…