My old friend Patrick Tanguay asked me to write something for E-180 Mag (by the people behind the new education platform, E-180). I wrote about why books, and textbooks will always matter, even if the interface to books and textbooks might change. The core of the argument is:
Books, and textbooks are still at the core of our intellectual lives. Textbooks are the documentation of human knowledge, an encoded record of ‘all the things we believe someone should learn about a topic.’ They are in some sense the operating system for society, and even if we start to build better and more effective mechanisms to transmit the contents of books and textbooks, we still need, and always will need, a written record of “that which should be known.”
In university I studied Philosophy, and Engineering, in a program called Applied Mathematics. I loved studying philosophy; engineering less so. I found the engineering courses, mostly, dry, and I had trouble getting my term work done.
When the end of term came along, I generally had something like three engineering courses, and two math courses to learn in their entirety, as well as two or three big philosophy papers to write, coupled with the readings I needed to do to feed into those papers.
I usually had to ace my engineering finals (to overcome those mid-term bumps), and writing philosophy papers, no matter when it happened, always took soul-wrenching commitment.
The end of my academic term was an intense time. Intense and pleasurable too, a time when my mind was entirely focused on learning, to the exclusion of just about everything else.
And the conclusion is something along the lines of:
Books can learn from the web that huge value — for readers, for learning, for knowledge, for society — can be unlocked when we allow networked digital content to be itself, to do what it does well — to be liquid, moveable and multidimensional, to be reproducible, sharable, findable, and linkable. And most importantly, to be built upon.
Or, can books save us from what digital does to our brains?
Last year, I read four books.
The reasons for that low number are, I guess, the same as your reasons for reading fewer books than you think you should have read last year: I’ve been finding it harder and harder to concentrate on words, sentences, paragraphs. Let alone chapters. Chapters often have page after page of paragraphs. It just seems such an awful lot of words to concentrate on, on their own, without something else happening. And once you’ve finished one chapter, you have to get through the another one. And usually a whole bunch more, before you can say finished, and get to the next. The next book. The next thing. The next possibility. Next next next…. [read more on Medium]
I’ve never actually read A Tale of Two Cities, but I just read the opening sentence. You should too:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The book has stayed pretty much the same for over 500 years: a bunch of paper pages between covers. It’s been both finite and easily grasped. But our digitally-connected world is forcing us to re-imagine what books could be.
Happy August to you all. Here are some quick announcements from PressBooks Worldwide Headquarters, including the following:
1. New front page
2. New webbook / readview designs
3. Pricing announced
4. Distribution (to Kindle, Nook, iBooks etc)
5. Import from WordPress
6. Improved CSS
7. Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto Part 3 – unofficial launch
Ebooks will become the dominant form of casual reading for adults at some point in the future1. When this happens, community and public libraries will face a major existential crisis, because a fundamental (perhaps the fundamental) function of community libraries—lending print books—will no longer be a fundamental demand from the community. Libraries that do not adjust will find their services increasingly irrelevant to the populations they serve.
If ebooks will become dominant, and if community libraries have, to date, structured their existence around a dying function (lending print books), then how will libraries remain relevant in the future?
To find an answer to this conundrum, it’s important to try to understand the reason for a library’s existence, rather than focus on the things a library does.