Monday, May 15, 2006

Will the Printed Book Survive the Advent of Digital Technology?

Will digital technology replace the printed book?

That's the frightening possibility discussed in "Scan This Book!," the cover story for this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Writes Kevin Kelly, a contributor to Wired magazine: "When Google announced in December 2004 that it would digitally scan the books of five major research libraries to make their contents searchable, the promise of a universal library was resurrected. Indeed, the explosive rise of the Web, going from nothing to everything in one decade, has encouraged us to believe in the impossible again. Might the long-heralded great library of all knowledge really be within our grasp?"

Kelly's conclusion: "The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology. All new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story. The great continent of orphan works, the 25 million older books born analog and caught between the law and users, will be scanned. Whether this vast mountain of dark books is scanned by Google, the Library of Congress, the Chinese or by readers themselves, it will be scanned well before its legal status is resolved simply because technology makes it so easy to do and so valuable when done. In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail. On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge."

My answer to my above question: Not in my house, as long as I'm living and I have eyes to see. And I hope that my children are able to enjoy the supreme pleasures of reading, printed-paper style, from books, magazines and newspapers, for decades to come.

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