Margaret Atwood’s Three Reason to Keep Physical Books

I got this embed (below) of Margaret Atwood talking about physical books versus ebooks from Biblioklept.

Summary of Margaret’s points

The three reasons for keeping physical books are:

  1. solar flares which might wipe out electronic media
  2. grid overloads resulting in brown outs
  3. internet overload (bandwidth/storage limits, too much spam/porn)

Electronic storage is fragile. If you want keep something permanently you probably want it in paper format. That’s why you can’t make e-wills.

But paper drives people crazy — it takes up so much room.

Ebooks offer portability, accessibilty, access to many books. Ebooks will probably increase reading.

But ebooks remove serendipidy — the store browse factor. How can one recreate that in e-formats?

Ebooks can also be good for those with reading difficulties – can isolate text / make it bigger.

Some notes
Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere make some similar points about the fragility of electronic formats in This is Not the End of the Book. Networks can be disrupted, and we burn through formats in less and less time. They also point out that books are not permanent, and that the history of culture is the history of deletion, of filtering. They claim that this is partly a virtue. Choosing what to save when the barbarians are at the gate results in a kind of natural selection. Ebooks might disappear in a more indiscriminatory and sudden fashion, and in the meantime the sheer amount of information available online is making evaluation harder and harder.

(Actually, of course, ebooks are not stored in RAM. If your power goes down temporarily, you can still retrieve the data later. If your power goes down permanently, well then, I guess, you discover you can’t burn ebooks to keep warm).

The serendipidy argument is a good one. This is the kind of thing that Amazon have been trying to manage online which hasn’t stopped them (tacitly or otherwise) encouraging consumers to browse in bookshops and then buy online. It’s this problem that prompted HarperCollins CEO Victoria Barnsley to suggest that bricks and morter booksellers might consider charging for browsing.

The embed


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