Should we fear a world without books?

Dennis Baron debaron at
Tue Jan 27 04:01:33 UTC 2009

There's a new post on the Web of Language: Should we fear a world  
without books?

Critics of the digital revolution warn that we're racing headlong into  
a world without books. I'm a big book fan myself, yet I wonder, as I  
read their critiques on my computer, is that such a bad thing?

After all, no technology is forever. Remember 8-track? Betamax?  
Writing technology moves on, too. The book replaced the scroll. The  
scroll replaced the clay tablet. Before that, there were inscribed  
tokens and oracle bones. And if e-text is crowding out conventional  
print, isn't digitizing just another, newer way to represent the  
written word? Maybe it's time to shelve that book and move on.

Not according to the defenders of printed books, who believe that the  
written word comes to life only on physical pages, preferably pages  
bound together in book form – objects that readers can touch, heft and  
savor; objects that take more than thirty seconds to read; objects  
that force us to think about what they mean. In comparison, virtual  
words are just shadow writing.

Books give hour after hour of enlightenment, whereas reading on  
screen, with its short texts, distracting graphics, and click-me  
hyperlinks, is no substitute for the quiet, sustained, reflective  
reading that is the special province of analog books.

There's some truth in these arguments, but only some. . . .

Is the book as we know it an endangered species? Read on, on

the Web of Language:

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

read the Web of Language:

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