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Bleached Woodpulp + Ink + Glue = A Mature Information Retrieval System


An intelligent teenager of my acquaintance tells me he now buys old-fashioned physical books because, “you can keep them.” Too, the memory of a printed page is always greater than retention from electronic scrolls, which he has noticed is approximately zero. And this, regardless of attention levels, which of course plunge in a medium riddled with “links,” which scatter the attention wonderfully. Of back-ups & throwbacks : Essays in Idleness

One of the recurring themes in the discussion of the “new media” (internet, “social” media, blogs, databases, web pages, online encyclopedia’s, Google’s thirst to control and contain all the information in the known universe, the cloud, ebooks, etc.) is the assertion that bytes will “replace” books. To many, it certainly looks that way on any given day at any given rest stop on the Information Highway. After all, the current Holy Grail of Deep Geek Hipness is to have everything — every scrap, note, frame, word, and image — stored on one’s iPad/Phone/Tablet for display at the touch of a fingertip.  

Be that as it may, the book is not going anywhere. Indeed, the book — in form and concept — is the foundation of the new media; it is contained within and yet contains it. The very way in which we discuss the new media ( web pages, web browsing, and that constant root of all places cyber, the place, space and file called “index.html” ) asserts that the book remains the dominant permanent record of all things worth keeping. Storage mediums come and go in the cyberverse ( Think “LP.” Think “tape.” Think “floppy.”), but I don’t think that the age when all information and opinions and records and history is held in some immense GoogleServer pile is one which we should welcome. Distributed information is more powerful and more secure when it is distributed not only throughout the Net, but in more than one medium.

The way-new information universe, straddled by the ever-growing hulk that is (“First don’t be evil.” ) Google is barely out of infancy and just about due to grow into “The Terrible Twos.” The book, by contrast, represents a fully mature information retrieval system.

What is good about the book? What makes it persistently valuable in storing, not the trivia of the day, but that which is valuable to humanity over the long term?

Let’s review:

1) No “advanced” technology required. Ability to manufacture present in all areas of the globe.
2 ) Crude but functioning units can be made by kindergartners with pencil, paper and glue.
3) Operating system and interface rock solid.
4) All types of information can be stored.
5) Has been demonstrated to be able to retain information in retrievable form across several thousand years.
6) Of the two, the User will often crash first.
7) All parts can be recycled.
8) All or part can be backed-up at any Kinkos.
9) Can be powered for hours with one candle.
10) All users receive up to 12 years of interface training free.

Add to that the tactile and aesthetic pleasures of fine books where art combines with craft, and you have something that will be with humankind long after today’s high-tech toys are consigned to a museum and listed in their paperback catalog. Perhaps there may be some new innovation at the dawn of some new day that will really and for all time displace the book, but that innovation and that dawn of that day is not yet.

For now, if it is a really important bit of knowledge or expression we put it in a book.

Just to be safe.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sam L. November 17, 2020, 8:42 AM

    With a goodly-sized hardback, you can whack your enemies about the head and shoulders with at least a 70% accuracy.

  • EX-Californian Pete November 17, 2020, 8:51 AM

    When I surf the web, I do so on my desktop or laptop, not a “smartphone.”
    Heck, my cheapo $50 cell phone (with $20 per month service) only does phone calls, (as that’s all I need it for) and my back-up phone is a ridiculously expensive SatPhone for emergencies.

    Books and magazines don’t “crash” if the there’s a power outage, or worse- if the power grid goes down. (Or if the evil PG&E commies do a blackout)

    As a shareholder in a major power company (AEP) I have found over the years that our electric grid is unfortunately WAY more vulnerable than you would want to know, and most of the major large components are made in foreign countries, and with limited availability. Buying a generator is a good idea, and going with a Generac is an even better idea.

    By the way, one of the few things I miss about California is when I used to visit Chico, and invariably witness some college kid madly typing away on their “Smartphone,” and then blindly walking in front of a moving vehicle, or face-first into a tree or utility pole. Great times…..

  • Schill McGuffin November 17, 2020, 8:58 AM

    I’m a great believer in physical media, but where reference books are concerned, there’s really no substitute for electronic text searching. Books can be browsed or studied. eBooks are for reference.

  • PA Cat November 17, 2020, 9:07 AM

    “For now, if it is a really important bit of knowledge or expression we put it in a book.” Reminds me of one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems:

    There is no Frigate like a Book
    To take us Lands away
    Nor any Coursers like a Page
    Of prancing Poetry –
    This Traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of Toll –
    How frugal is the Chariot
    That bears the Human Soul –

    Happy memories of a book nerd’s childhood– my parents bought me every Landmark Book title that interested me, and there were many of them. The hardcover books, which cost only $1.50 apiece when they were first published, were about historical subjects, and they lured me– as they did many other kids in the 1950s– into history as a discipline. And they have held up very well; as a 2016 article about the series notes, “Random House wisely packaged them with inviting dust jackets for the general reader, and in reinforced bindings for libraries (often with the dust jacket image embossed on the front cover). The paper was of the highest quality: even today the pages haven’t yellowed. All the books came in just under 200 pages, with a legible Caslon font, reasonably wide margins, and even comprehensive indexes. . . . And since so many copies of the original series were printed, they are still to be found in used bookstores and online, and are often employed in the curricula of home schoolers.”


    I still like to travel “Lands away” via the pages of a good history book.

  • Dirk November 17, 2020, 10:19 AM

    We are at a point in time, that if you don’t mind your every word, every conversation recorded and stored, your golden. I look forward to the era of the book again. Have hundreds, enjoy their scent, touch, texture, where words printed on the pages, different font, etcetc. Really awesome in a simple way.

    Carole and me are revisiting the lost art of letter writing, yea weird!. I’m still stuck on what I say to another is mine, shared with them, not govt. I want something important and semi secretive to get out to a friend were using snail mail again.

    I’m overboard I don’t send mail from my home, but one of the boxes in the area, zero return address,two stamps. I see this new/old concept coming back for freedom lovers. ” mail boxes are becoming difficult to locate. Seems like we’ve lost a dozen locally in the past six months

    Good electric typewriters are still plentiful, and cheap. Please consider reviewing this old fashioned way.

    Tic Toc

  • Mike Anderson November 17, 2020, 11:49 AM

    When held flat and level, waist-high, then dropped, a college textbook will dispatch even the largest of Texas cockroaches (Wendy Davis excluded). Try THAT with a laptop!

  • John Bosworth November 17, 2020, 12:04 PM

    Castalia House is working to publish very high quality reprints of the Junior Classics and a number of other books.
    Pricey. Worthwhile.

  • James ONeil November 17, 2020, 12:40 PM

    Hard copies; I’ve often contended that is the fit really hits the shan, revolution, or EMP, or Harris/Biden, & civilization is destroyed, A few folks with the equivalent of a 1920’s 8th grade education and hard copies of Audels Manuals could easily rebuild a 19th, early 20th century civilization from the surrounding rubble.

  • Rob De Witt November 17, 2020, 1:57 PM

    Marshall McLuhan, as usual, nailed it with “wisdom is being replaced with ‘information’. ” And thank God for David Warren.

    Any young whippersnapper mePhone addict can bury you with bits (eight of which equal a byte, but he doesn’t know that) of info, ‘though hardly any of them can make sense out of any of it. I take some responsibility, having taught fledgling computer users throughout the ’90s. Even at the outset I was struggling against the mindset that “We don’t have to know, the computer will do it. Don’t you know about SpellCheck?”

    To which I replied, “Spell ‘its’.”

    A very few lights came on, quickly flickering out as a whole generation reassured itself that “apostrophes are real hard, man.” It says so in my “online encyclopedia is,” as above. Well, it was a buck, and I badly needed it.

    The medium is now fully massaged, and literacy in any but the deeply mature is not only rare but increasingly suspect. Still, as long as there are libraries there will be books, and when the libraries close you can often snag the hardcovers for yourself.

  • John the River November 17, 2020, 3:37 PM

    Ah the library I used to have! I had a box of books that I specifically put aside for rereading when I retired, in fifteen or twenty years. Then there was the fire, bad planning on my part, I picked a day when the town pumper arrived but didn’t bring any water. (hydrant was dry too)
    I can’t really bring myself to start seriously collecting books again.

    I course I figured, Hey the town library is five minutes away by bike! But they torn it down a few years ago and the new (improved) library seems to be curiously short of actual books. Especially old books.
    I don’t like to buy ebooks, Kindle belongs to Amazon, and I trust Bezos not at all. Digital Rights Management isn’t.

  • CC November 17, 2020, 5:36 PM

    Yeah, and information technology was supposed to do away with all that paperwork, too.

  • Grizzly November 17, 2020, 7:16 PM

    It gets worse. I was shocked to read several years ago that some colleges have decided to do away with their book-based libraries in favor of digital libraries. I guess their argument is that anything the students really need can be stored and shared digitally, and that electronic media are cheaper to house and maintain than real books. Never mind that there are huge numbers of old books that have not and never will be digitized, their contents practically rendered inaccessible to posterity.

    For much the same reasons and with the same short-sightedness, my employer has chosen to do away with its several book-based technical libraries. Yeah, they offer some electronic collections of technical materials, such as Safari (the electronic book service, not Apple’s browser), but the extent of those services is appallingly limited and difficult to search. We in the engineering teams have had to start our own collections of books related to our niche areas, our own mini-libraries.

  • PubliusII November 18, 2020, 7:07 AM

    Well, if you don’t have physical possession of any media your treasure — books, music, whatever — then you don’t really own it.

    Also James ONeil’s comment about the survivability of the knowledge captured in books is right on target. Some 30-plus years ago, after reading Lucifer’s Hammer, I decided to start accumulating what I call “the end of the world library.” This was (and still is, in my basement) a modest collection of engineering books that dated from 1950 or earlier — i.e., pre-computer. Never yet had use of it, but it reassures me to know that I have it.

  • Teri Pittman November 18, 2020, 12:35 PM

    I got a mention on Essays on Idleness called On Hand Tools. If you’d like to see the videos that prompted it, look for Mr. Chickadee on you tube.

  • Billy Wilson November 18, 2020, 12:50 PM

    My library gives away books! I’ve found classics and ‘how to books’ galore.Used books are cheaper than the postage due. Great deals for almost nothing. Guess I’ll read W.E.B Griffith’s series on the Brotherhood of War tonight…it never gets old.

  • Grizzly November 18, 2020, 5:06 PM

    Billy W. said, “Used books are cheaper than the postage due.” Yes! I’ve seen used books on Amazon priced at $0.01. That’s right, one penny. Apparently the vendor makes it up in handling & shipping (which may run anywhere from $3.99 on up). I’m guessing there may be some kind of tax advantage in pricing the book at essentially nothing.