I am a sucker for radical concepts mixed with a dose of paranoia. Hmm, I wonder why? The Times Online has published an article with a great central thesis (the kind of central thesis that requires ending the paragraph early because I want to let this idea stand alone before getting into what might be the bigger topic):
First, we stop publishing books that needn’t be books. People who don’t really read don’t really need books so let them have Jordan and Becks in lots of other ways. Audio, animated-audio, that is, audio with pictures is just about right for most celebrity publications.
Publishers, someday, you are going to look back at those words and see the beginning of the beginning. Why do all books have to be in printed, bound format? Especially those books designed to capture the pop personality of the moment? These are not books designed to sit on shelves, to be picked up, reread, passed between friends, shared among generations. There are many books that are the literary equivalent of paper napkins. I say start with the genre known as celebrity autobiographies (and I use the prefix “auto” advisedly).
You’re starting to see publishers playing with the traditional book format more and more (see: McSweeney’s Wholphin). Why not take it further — clear the shelves of books that will be remaindered almost before they’re unboxed. You will feel better for it.
Almost immediately after her call to arms, Jeanette Winterson sees the dark cloud, the downside of digitizing rather than printing (I did promise you paranoia):
There are whole teams of bearded computer nerds advertising their services to retrieve ancient pieces of work filed in the 1970s. The discs and machines are obsolete. This will go on being the case. It will be easy for governments to control thought by controlling access to information. Anyone can pick up a book — the 1970s already need specialist knowledge and equipment — so bad luck if you left the key to the universe on a floppy disc the size of a 78rpm record.
This is why Kirk, when he reads this, will argue for the need for open standards when it comes to digitizing the past and the future. Locks and keys and proprietary formats will only make the future more expensive — I’d rather spend my money on new shoes than decrypting the manual that will save the world.