I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately. There is a lot of background to my relationship to books. As many who know me or have read this site are aware, I am a minimalist. Minimalism, as Patrick Rhone will attest, has very little to do with the amount of something. Instead, minimalism largely depends on whether something can be condensed, concentrated into its purest and most useful form. In the case of the Mac, Mr. Rhone often attempts to find those utilities and applications with the least cruft, the best interface for the purpose for which the software was created. Minimalism is important to the discussion of books because people of my generation and prior own so damn many books. What I realized shortly after moving into my first home was that I never wanted to move those books ever again. In addition, the books that I had were from all over the place and included a number of textbooks and books, fiction and nonfiction alike, that I would literally never read again. So I began a project.
Similar to my “rip all your DVDs to your computer and get rid of the optical discs” project, the “read all the books in your house and rid yourself of the ones you don’t want” project commenced; the minimalist title was simply, “The Reading Project”. I bet it is not surprising to anyone that the project is slow-going. Not only does life (and a graduate degree) get in the way of such a project, there are some books that one simply does not want to read. More to the point, as I slogged along from book to book, often starting multiple books at a time and finishing one or fewer of them, my wife and I decided to get pregnant. Patrick Rhone unknowingly solicited this post from me with his post back in January about books and his kids. I would block quote something from it, but the whole thing is just such a good representation of my dilemma, you should just go read it.
The Reading Project started because I wanted to condense my collection into the bare essentials, the classics and the books that I would read again and would want in paper form for reading to my kids. Most of the other books, I could simply replace with ebook copies in the future if the desire ever came; for the majority of these books, that desire will never present itself. I am still sure that The Reading Project is something I want to do, but recent articles (including the aforementioned one by Mr. Rhone) have made me reassess what books will mean for my children.
As a technologist, I am always attempting to be at the forefront of new technology. With each new device that comes out, I wonder what the world will be like in five to ten years. I am also looking forward to sharing my love of technology with my child in all the forms such geekery presents itself. However, Lexi and I have made the decision to keep our child off of electronics for the first few years (at least). Babies and toddlers crave activity, tactility, and the virtues of the real world. Who am I to take those formative experiences from my child? Books are no different from any other experience; they are tactile, emotionally relevant, and necessary for proper brain development.
A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought about the move to ebooks and whether or not physical books (pbooks, I’ll call them from now on) will exist in the way they do now in the future. These types of questions come up all the time because people want to know what I think about new technologies. This instance gave me pause, however, because, while I believe that pbooks will eventually be completely replaced by ebooks, I hope for my child’s sake that this is not the case, that pbooks will exist as an alternative for anyone who still desires them. In addition, children’s books have a variety of reasons for existence, some of which can not be and may never be reproduced on a screen, whether e-ink or otherwise.
Physical books also create places that are priceless in the process of experience and development: libraries. Harry Marks linked to a beautiful collection of the “16 Bookstores You Have To See Before You Die” at Buzzfeed. Mr. Marks’ comment was that he wanted a home library that looked like one of these and I will admit that I once had such aspirations, but now it seems almost silly to me in the digital age, where the meaning of ownership has changed so drastically. Nevertheless, the experience of visiting a library is one of which I would never want to deprive my child. Hell, I might even visit a few of the sixteen bookstores listed with them.
I think it should be clear at this point in time that technology now influences everything. Whether we are discussing music, movies, books, or periodicals, technology has the power to upset the defined norms. The tech news has been all over the place in terms of coverage and opinions of the recent Apple ebook trial. I have been watching mostly because I buy the majority of my ebooks (and other media) from Apple. In the event that Apple is forced out of the ebook business, I am not really sure what happens to all of my ebooks. However, I am interested more so because this case may define what the future of books looks like. The worst case scenario in my mind is the one in which Amazon is given carte blanche to have a kind of monopsony. I feel like the entire trial has become about business (and has recently begun to resemble a soap opera), instead of focusing on what is good for the consumer and the future of the book industry.1 No matter what the outcome, with the pending release of OS X Mavericks and its inclusion of iBooks on the Mac, I am looking forward to being able to utilize technology to further my own goals in reading. In addition, I look forward to the day when my own child can share in my excitement for books, reading, and Apple products.
Recognize that I did not just say “ebook industry”. ↩
Did the Internet community peak at bookmarks? Asked in a different and perhaps more complete way: just as technologies like RSS and email in their purest forms are hard to beat even as technology marches forward, what better technology exists to keep track of information on the ever-expanding Internet than bookmarks? Taken a step further, what better way to share the bookmarked information than a site of your own? As such, I‘ve been reading, which is why I write now.
Working in and having a passion for libraries, I am struck by the fact that the way bookmarks work in the physical world is not directly analogous to bookmarks in the digital world. Bookmarks in the digital world are instead like dog-eared pages or highlighted passages; if you think of the Internet as a single tome, that is. In any case, anything that moves you to deface a book should probably be shared or become immortalized in some other way than just a reference for a future version of yourself.