Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Case For Books: past, present, and future" by Robert Darnton

The invention of writing was one of the most important technological, cultural, and sociological breakthroughs in human history. With the printed book, information and ideas could disseminate more widely and effectively than ever before - and in some cases, affect and redirect the sway of history. Today, nearly one million books are published each year. But is the era of the book as we know it - a codex of bound pages - coming to an end? And if it is, should we celebrate its demise and the creation of a democratic digital future, or mourn an irreplaceable loss? The digital age is revolutionizing the information landscape. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexandria, making available millions of texts for a curious reader at the click of a button, and electronic book sales are growing exponentially. Will this revolution in the delivery of information and entertainment make for more transparent and far-reaching dissemination or create a monopolistic stranglehold?

In [this book], Robert Darnton, an intellectual pioneer in the field of the history of the book and director of Harvard University's library, offers an in-depth examination of the book from its earliest beginnings to its shifting role today in popular culture, commerce, and the academy. In a lasting collection drawn from previously published and new work alike, Robert Darnton - author, editorial adviser, and publishing entrepreneur - lends unique authority to the life and role of the book in society. The resulting book is a wise work of scholarship - one that require readers to carefully consider how the digital revolution will broadly affect the marketplace of ideas.

Too boring in a lot of parts, too academic (and aimed primarily at academia in general, with university libraries primarily - not public libraries). While I appreciate Darnton's endeavor, I just found a lot of it dry as toast, and since it didn't apply to my sphere, I skipped a lot of it. However, I really did like the following paragraph, so I'll share that with you.

"Consider the book. It has extraordinary staying power. Ever since the invention of the codex sometime close to the birth of Christ, it has proven to be a marvelous machine - great for packaging information, convenient to thumb through, comfortable to curl up with, superb for storage, and remarkably resistant to damage. It does not need to be upgraded or downloaded, accessed or booted, plugged into circuits or extracted from webs. Its design makes it a delight to the eye. Its shape makes it a pleasure to hold in the hand. And its handiness has made it the basic tool of learning for thousands of years, even when it had to be unrolled to be read..."

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