Saturday, January 9, 2010

Survival of the fittest...

The other day, I mentioned an interview with Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos in Newsweek. At the time, I was focusing on the battle between single-use devices (dedicated e-Readers) and so-called "convergence devices" (tablets, laptops, netbooks, smartphones, et al) that do everything even if they don't do any one thing particularly well. He said something else there that's been raising hackles in the parts of the book community that are wed to the tangible paste and paper artifact.
"...we love stories and we love narrative; we love to get lost in an author's world. That's not going to go away; that's going to thrive. But the physical book really has had a 500-year run. It's probably the most successful technology ever. It's hard to come up with things that have had a longer run. If Gutenberg were alive today, he would recognize the physical book and know how to operate it immediately. Given how much change there has been everywhere else, what's remarkable is how stable the book has been for so long. But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever." - Jeff Bezos Quoted in Newsweek, 21 December 2009
By far the most articulate argument for the permanence of the physical specimen comes from Seattle author Knute Berger. The op/ed is called "Will Books Survive?" and I encourage you to read it. It's an interesting take from someone in the heart of one of America's most literate cities and home of Berger is mostly reacting to that part of the interview which would threaten or eliminate the creaky floorboards of the Elliot Bay Book Co or the glass and steel cathedral of the written word that is the Seattle Public Library (which Berger refers to as the "Rem Koolhas temple" in deference to its famous architect -- I have to admit I'm not a fan of the latter, the architect seems to have forgotten that libraries should be pleasant places to read as well as look at.) Knute Berger is a frequent contributor to my local NPR station, so I'm familiar with his views and I know that he and I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on many issues. On this at least, I agree with him wholeheartedly. I have similarly eclectic buying habits despite my best intentions and my omnivorous tastes have led me from the digital docs to the dusty stacks of the Puget Sound's used bookworld. And my home too is a constant battle between finding space to build more bookshelves and the people who have to live there too. So too do I hope that the bookworld can find a kind of equilibrium that allows for the existance of all varieties of books from the terra cotta to the terabyte and beyond.
Scott Walker Perkins writes literary thrillers and blogs on the interface between technology and literary culture. His current novel is The Palimpsest and he is working on another tentatively titled 42 Lines. BloggerTwitterNingFacebook

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).