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24 January 2010

Lucy pointed out this article from Duke University, called The End of Civilization as We Know It? which discusses the waning of books as physical objects. A divide, they say, has appeared between the book people and the digital information people. The costly role of libraries, providing central access to books, may be on its way out. "The astonishing capacity of database technologies has already begun to short-circuit the centralized distribution function of libraries."

I'm from the age of books as physical objects, of course, and from a very bookish family. The objects themselves - books - are among the best and most beautiful and satisfying of any the human race has devised. Like everything that made up life before the digital age, a book had texture, a smell, reflected its age, had more individual characteristics (pages to cut, leather binding, glassine over the plates) the older it was. I remember once putting my hands on a monastery wall and closing my eyes JUST IN CASE a bit of the Middle Ages could be discerned. Books are like that, in that they travel through time. Strange old books turn up at bazaars, like The Road to En-Dor. Books, the weight and texture of their paper, the cover materials and sumptuousness or lack thereof, the old bookplates, handwritten dedications, glued-on library pouches, the worn and dog-eared corners, foxing, crumbling, broken binding, travel through time and space and keep us connected to the past.

I've decided (through my thinking about individualism and togetherness) that everything I think is right is actually wrong, since to have a kind of one-ness it stands to reason that differentiation needs to be reduced, the ties to the past weakened. When libraries first got computers I thought, "Oh, good," but a few years later when everyone had net access I decided libraries should ditch computers (used a lot for downloading material the patrons didn't want on their PCs I think). Perhaps, though, what should happen is for the money to be channeled into providing net service for people. I'm too old, and I'll never not want books, but the divide is there and seems only to be likely to grow wider. Books may be relegated to "precious object" status, like butter churns and looms - used by a few, but not a general part of human life. It makes civilisation more fragile, as it will not have distribution for a non-digital world should things break down, but we have already accepted that in many, if not most, areas - people can't grow their food, weave their clothes, etc., although if one has a few good books one can learn from them ;-D

posted by - 8:53 AM

Before you decide to wear a black (dotted) lace veil over your face for the rest of your life (to disguise your swollen red eyes from weeping over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore), remember VINYL, man. Albums were works of art! then ... 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, now MP3s, and ... AND ... VINYL COMES BACK because it is SO kewl.
Vinyl came back ages ago, though.

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