Will Books Survive?

Recently, a journalist asked my opinion on the future book. Will books be shed as part of our cultural devolution, or will people cling to them? Good question in light of the launch of Kindle DX, which looks so appealing.

As I glance around my writing studio, I see books piled everywhere. Their presence is comforting. They define me. Pixels don’t. A screen may thrill. It may invite our attention. No matter. I predict there will remain a fetish for the book. No matter how much change floods our lives, books will find their place. Here’s why:

1. Books serve multiple functions: A book delivers a tactile emotional bond. They are cultural artifacts that deliver a sense of identity and emotional stability. It’s harder to shed something that delivers on multiple levels– education, imagination and emotion.

2. When people adopt a new technology they abandon the previous technology because it lacks utility: inconvenient, clunky, hard to maintain, breakable, costly. Hence the death of the 8-track tape.

3. There is a societal infrastructure to support books. Libraries, bookstores, book groups all form an eco-system in which the book survives. Books may go on the endangered species list after a period, but will never be extinguished.

Of course, change can be expected from the publishing industry once it awakens from its coma to discover that the rules for intellectual property have been re-written by technology. That may throw a wrench into things, but I doubt it.

Still, books are the most reliable analogue system going. This spoof on a medieval help desk shows why.