Our Antiquated Word Containers

By Theesan Vedan. Theesan, 22, lives in Cape Town, South Africa, and is a dental student at the University of the Western Cape. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

‘B-o-o-k-s’, I spell out to my child as he inputs text into a search engine. ‘Just like in e-books, but without the e ‘. The year is 2037, 25 years from now and the global publishing scene has evolved. While it might be unrealistic that my then 18 year old, would not be able to spell the word ‘book’, it is indeed realistic that our conventional notion of what might be termed as a book, might have been entirely reinvented. As he glances at the holographic screen of his iPad 17, he recites that a book is: ‘This forerunner of modern e-books, comprised of written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers. By the early 21st century, books were being published digitally for use with personal digital equipment’. ‘Thanks dad, this will be fantastic for my assignment, I’ll add some pictures. I’m sure that my history teacher is going to love this’.

In March of 2012, the traditional print industry was dealt a major blow, when after 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica ceased production of its iconic multi-volume book sets. My father often told me stories of the suited Encyclopedia sales men, who would visit his neighborhood, selling their Encyclopedia sets with pride and prestige. The affluent buyers of these volumes would then proudly display their encyclopedia sets in full view of visitors; who stood in awe of their immense collection of information. Their home was transformed into a place of knowledge.

Theses pillars of wisdom today serve as makeshift ladders, when one needs to reach for a screw-driver on the shelf or as practice material in Japanese origami classes. A printed encyclopedia is outdated as soon as it is published; translating into a stagnating, waste of resources and storage space.

You may argue that books are not destined to die in the same manner as encyclopedias have. The internet has provided us with a great degree of scientific information, but can a work of fiction really be enjoyed electronically? Let us take a look at the statistics; both Barnes and Noble and Amazon claim that they now sell three times as many works of fiction as digital books than in physical book format. Now one may argue that users of these online stores would prefer digital media and it is not truly reflective of the industry as a whole. However the September 19 edition of Publishers Weekly summed up the current situation in the worldwide publishing industry. The headline screamed that there has been a reported 17.1% decline in print sales. They went on to state that global eBook sales have gained in popularity by 121%. These figures are surely indicative of the mass migration from the physical to the digital book format. It is also evident that, not only are eBooks converting traditional book users, they are also introducing new members in to the literacy world.

My father, an avid book lover, treasures his dead pieces of tree bark and has told me of the immense pleasure that one can derive from flicking through a paperback rather than scrolling through the document on a tablet pc. ‘It’s the feel of the book, the smell of the pages and the richness that each page flick brings to the story.’ I pat him on the back and hand him a tissue paper. His sentimentality echoes the feelings of vinyl record and Polaroid camera enthusiasts. If progress was always stifled by sentimentality, then we probably would still be reading all of our text on papyrus scrolls, or we would visit caves in groups to read our favorite stories drawn on the walls. I feel that many staunch book devotees, like my father, have mistaken the container for its valuable contained treasures. Books are not knowledge and do not create a more interesting read, but they are merely a transport medium for knowledge and stories. Humanity will forever endeavor to futher its quest for information and for true enlightenment, but the quest shall continue with the use of modern tools.

Samsung is just a year away from mass producing its impressive OLED flexible screens that are very thin, durable and user friendly. These screens reduce eye muscle strain, are indestructible and allow for easy scrolling and reading. With such improvements in the usability of electronic readers, it is easy to forecast the inevitable doom of the traditional printed book.

The little known American author, Robert Brown, referred to books as “antiquated word containers”. I also see them as these obsolete storage units, which are a burden to the environment and progress. Perhaps in the year 2037, the year that some forecasters have predicted to hold the demise of the printed book, we shall see book collectors and historians, collecting any printed form of literature and reference. Titles such as The Cat in Hat would be a rarity, and collectors would pay many a dime to get their hands on the Twilight or Harry Potter series.

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