Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dreams in Digital

As other people have discussed, I think the book is pretty safe right now as an institution. While single songs can be listened to in relative ease on the computer, books are a different matter. I personally don't see myself curling up with a laptop to read a book, and I think people reading books online while at the beach or in the bathtub will lead to accidents.

But right now we live in strange times. For every innovation there is an equally strong feeling that we are losing something important. I think that a great deal of the soul, what makes a book a book- is lost because of digital translation. A book becomes a coded series of letters and numbers instead of a physical thing. While the success of Cory Doctorow is fantastic, I see it in the same pattern as Youtube making Ok Go’s career or Chuck Norris becoming a hit with 20 somethings. I see it indicative of people coming together to exchange ideas; I’m not entirely convinced that had he just published the book in physical form, several avid fans online could not have given him the same popularity. I’m reminded of the The Tipping Point here: the avid minority that spreads an idea like wildfire.

With the rise of websites like,,, etc. a great deal of our culture has been transferred to the internet. Some people welcome the change. People spend their lives on World of Warcraft; you could at one point buy items for the game with real money via Ebay. I’ve heard people have killed each other in real life over fake deaths in Counterstrike.

On the other hand, as Darren pointed out, a lot of the digital experience is unsatisfactory. You are the god of your own utopia. Facebook enables instant contact with everyone. Chat rooms replace phone conversations and online versions of the Sims replace the real relationships. When things become convenient and easy, they become less mysterious and appealing. I’m not saying the same will happen with books, but I worry that with convenience certain aspects of their appeal will be lost. Perhaps I’m cynical; by making books searchable, I think you’ll get a lot more websites like and less true readers. Also, I believe that intangible feeling that you get when you open a new book- well, no amount of technology will replace that.

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