Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Printed v. Published

Note: this is a late post for Friday, April 4.

Ernst writes in "Discontinuities": "The book belongs to the first external memory devices through which culture as memory-based has been made possible, but the book now has lost its privilege as the dominant external memory of alphabetic knowledge. Europa is still book-, that is library- and archive-base- fixated; in contrast, the media cultures in the U.S. have already developed a culture of permanently recycling data, rather than eternally fixed memories."

First of all, I'm not so sure that his last point is true; at least in the sense that Americans treat media very differently from Europeans. Anybody have any examples of this?

But secondly, my group discussed during section Friday how books are still taken more seriously than other media, especially in academia. Authors will, for example, float ideas for their book on their blog, or go on the talk-show tour to promote a book, but in the end if it's an idea they want to be taken seriously they only put it out as written word printed on paper and bound (probably by a hard cover with a dust jacket). Obviously we aren't the first people to have noticed this, but it's interesting in light of what we've read about archiving. On the one hand, though second and third editions or extra introductions and afterwords can keep a book more or less updated for a few years, there's no argument that the Internet could do a much better job of that. So why has no one been successful in selling books electronically? Much of it probably has to do with the love affair people have for the book as a physical entity, though electronic book readers like the Kindle might let people make that jump. It could also be a perception of the book as an ultimate static source; while a Web site can be tampered with, the theft or vandalism of a single copy of the book doesn't affect the others. What will it take for people finally to allow digital texts into their lives? My guess is just time.

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