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Musing: Digital vs Paper

Today’s Globe and Mail says the federal government is looking at getting out of the map printing business and providing digital files online for a fee or free. The move is cost-cutting, and is supportedly very clearly by the numbers: in 2003 over 330,000 maps were distributed, in 2004, over 261,000, but in the past year only 2000+ as more files are available online.
Brad Green, President of World of Maps, is reportedly starting a letter-writing campaign, though there is no word of it on their site.

This story sent me down memory lane… Back in 2000 launched the e-book store and internally we debated the demise of the book, anathema to the avid readers in the merchandising department. The joke going around was that in our e-book world, somewhere in the future a new format for storing information would be discovered: flat, portable, flexible size formats, doesn’t require plugging in — yes, it’s a book!
Just the other day I was looking for a new book to read on my bookshelf and marvelled at an old edition of Jane Austen I inherited, mass produced over a hundred years ago when home libraries were the DVD collection of today. I am dismayed that it will disintegrate over time, the pages yellowing further, heat and humidity turning them to dust. I love its sense of history, my connection to past readers. Tissue covers the engravings included within to attempt to illustrate for the reader main characters in the story. The bookseller’s label is in the inside jacket, making an indent on its facing page. Will future generations be able to enjoy these tanglible links to our past? These features are not things I can get online.
Though I can argue as well as anyone the value of electronic formats, in that you can link to discussion forums, back history, related information that can enrich any book’s experience. But we are a tactile species, hence our need to shop online and often still purchase at a store. Yet I wonder, does the next generation have such nostalgia or need?
They are more used to data at their fingertips, reading screens, porting information electronically. Just a short distance between X and Y, yet, their hands have grown used to keyboards of many sizes, information on demand, without the cloud of memory to wonder if this is the only way.
Is my worry that the printed book, on recycled paper stock of course, a needless worry? Or could one young man be working magic with the younger generation to make books just as eagerly anticipated? The smell, the touch, the bulk in the backpack, sneaking a flashlight beneath the covers? My faith lies in you, Harry Potter! (JK, I need book 7 now… just a hint?)

One Comment

  1. Brandy Fleming
    Brandy Fleming October 4, 2005

    Just look at the recent resurgence of vinyl albums for a clue – even youth, who are the biggest music downloaders, are now becoming record collectors, too.
    I’ve got an iPod, but I also have a record collection that takes up half of the home office 🙂
    Not to mention the typewriter obsession…

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