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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Paper Age gives way to the Digital Age

Everyone has heard of the Stone Age, but few realize that our own era might well be called the “Paper Age.” I came across an article by Matt Patterson, who argues that digital literature is not permanent enough, that digital information won't last nearly as long as a printed book will last. ―The Digital Dark Age Ahead

Matt Patterson laments the threatened demise of literature in printed form on the medium known as “paper.” He argues that paper―if treated well―can last for centuries. A similar demise occurred thousands of years ago. Clay tablets were carved with sticks. Today we call this ancient writing Cuneiform script. These clay tablets which were written thousands of years ago still exist today, and in the late 19th century were deciphered by archeologists. For more than 3500 years this medium of literature was used and these works of literature are still readable to this very day! Can there be any doubt that because clay tablets last not mere centuries, but for thousands of years, it is clay we should all be writing on and not the transitory and ephemeral pulp from a tree?

Please understand that the argument that clay is better than paper was meant humorously and was not meant to be taken literally. These days when I extol the virtues and convenience of my Kindle, inevitably someone will begin to tell me that the thing they love most about reading is the feel of the paper as they turn the pages and the smell of paper and ink. Ok...I haven't found any fragrances at the cosmetics counter named “Eue De Book.” I'm certain that early forms of paper such as papyrus were looked on with suspicion, and that clay tablet lovers nostalgically pined for the return of good old clay.

Just as paper was found to be vastly more convenient and affordable than clay, so too the electronic age will prove that digital storage is more convenient and affordable than paper. An electronic book takes up zero space, is infinitely reproducible and much cheaper to manufacture and sell. This leads to a greatly reduced price. Hard-line authors who refuse to release their work in digital form will watch their competitors rake in the bucks while they are notified of the thousands of their books that didn’t sell and were sent to the recycling center.

Finally, for you lovers of that revered institution called a library, I invite you to imagine a world where every book in that library is contained within a small device that fits in your back pocket. Now imagine that device is actually in everyone's back pocket. Now, that's a future I can live with.