April 29, 2009

The e-book revolution

According to Steven Johnson, "2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible." Following an "aha" moment with his Kindle he wrote a Wall Street Journal article entitled "How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write" where he outlines a future with more books, more distractions -- and the end of reading alone.
The book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years. There is great promise and opportunity in the digital-books revolution. The question is: Will we recognize the book itself when that revolution has run its course?
Alloway Librarian Bill Badke comments "It's a fascinating article. The idea that we may one day lose the very concept of "the book" is something that has concerned me for some time. Everything is becoming "content" without context as students search across e-book collections for snippets they can quote in papers, never giving thought to the fact that each snippet has a whole book built around it."

Among Johnson's predictions:
  • We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little here, a little bit there.
  • Writers and publishers will begin to think about how individual pages or chapters might rank in Google's results, crafting sections explicitly in the hopes that they will draw in that steady stream of search visitors.
  • Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity -- a direct exchange between author and reader -- to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world.
Assessing content will become increasingly difficult as it becomes dislocated from its context. "If ever we needed comprehensive and rigorous information literacy programs," Badke notes, "it's now."

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