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What is going to happen to my best friend?

TPB1988's picture

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”-History Boys

    I'd like to begin this paper by saying that whoever said diamonds are a girl's best friend has obviously never read a good book before. Books are not cold, they never leave you bankrupt, and they are always willing to share. When I read a book, the mundane surroundings of my everyday life dissolve and suddenly a new world begins to blossom from the delicate words on the page. When I feel silly, the words gently hold my hand and take me to a place where being earnest is very important. When I'm feeling romantic the words will take me to climb the cliffs of insanity and through fiery swamps only to remind me that death cannot stop true love, it can only delay it. Most importantly when I am grieving only those words I know and love so well can provide the warmth of a hug that I desperately need.

Book 3
    Reading a book is a one of a kind experience where the words and the reader share an intimate relationship that is kept a secret within the pages. The book will introduce one to characters no one else will ever know because each reader brings their characters to life in an original way. For example, someone's Romeo can be a fool who loves to spill pretty words at pretty ladies, while another's Romeo will be a romantic who cannot live without his love. Although a book may have the same written words as a million other copies, each word is given meaning and personality by the reader. The best part of a book is the lack of interruption that allows for bonding and a feeling of deep-time. Words are words but, when a book is read on audio tape or online the experience will never be the same. There are no pop-ups when I read my novels, there is no recharging of batteries to make sure the words do not disappear, there is no artificial light to take away from the beauty of a printed letter on a weathered page, and most importantly there is no strange voice breathing life into the characters other than my own. It is simply you and your beloved words and no one, or anything, else.
    With technology reaching new stages of development it is nearly impossible to deny the benefits of having literature, or everything else for that matter, online. It can be less expensive, more available to the masses, and allows for new and fancy technology such as the Kindle or the iPad.My only concern is what do all of these innovations and advancements mean for books. What is going to happen to my best friend?!

    When one visits the website for The Institute for the Future of the Book the mission statement states “the printed page is giving way to the networked screen. The Institute for the Future of the Book seeks to chronicle this shift, and impact its development in a positive direction”. There is no denying the influence of the internet on the world, let alone books. All the branches of education are evolving with the assistance of technology. Mathematics now have sophisticated calculators that can draw entire graphs with the push of a button, art history professors can now demonstrate images on  a projected screen without ever leaving a classroom to attend a museum, and scientists can observe virtual experiments without actually performing the experiment themselves. English has no reason to be left behind. By having all kinds of novels and poetry online, affordability and accessibility are no longer issues for a student or person eager to learn from a text. Overtime, colleges would eventually become less expensive as the cost of purchasing books would decrease from hundreds a semester to as low as one hundred, resulting in a higher enrollment statistics. The potential good that can come from having books online would not stop there. Electronic or audio versions of novels could expand accessibility to literature and provide residents of lower-income areas that might not have a local Borders or Barnes and Noble an opportunity to progress and gain necessary knowledge at a very low cost. A few donated computers could result in the education of a small community, or maybe even more. The future of the book seems to be very bright if it happens to choose the more advanced technological route versus the outdated print path it is currently traveling. The question is why are so many (including myself) concerned for the fate of books at the hands of technology when it has the potential to produce so much positive change?

    When I think of this question I consider the effects innovations such as Facebook, Skype, and texting have had on the world as we know it. Connecting to long lost friends and having communication with family in other countries has no doubt been facilitated with the help of the internet. At the same time because of these inventions social capital decreases daily at a steadily accelerating rate. Although cars and trains make traveling a much simpler task than it is was years ago, people today prefer to use their slim elegant phones and their precious internet rather than have a personal physical connection. After all, why would anyone walk down the hall to ask their friend a question when they can simply leave them a comment on their Facebook wall? The physical contact that humans used to long for has now taken a back seat in order to make room for convenience. More ILY are being texted and emailed rather than being said in person. Sure the words are the same, but do they have the same meaning when the medium changes? Is an online hug the same as the warm embrace of a human? It is highly possible that this is what the future holds in store for books. The beautiful images on hard covers will become Jpegs and the pages will be turned by clicks. No one will own original books in which  pages are marked by dog ear folds, food stains that incite giggling, or tears stains that trigger fond memories. The future will hold mass produced digital copies with no traces that a person has ever loved  the text or even read it.
    It is a dreary future for books unless someone fights to defend their existence. Sven Birkets who fondly compares reading a book to a young and passionate love writes in his article The Time of Reading “More books are printed -- I know. And more dollars are spent on books -- I know that, too. But I also know that when I stand in the aisles of one of the new mega-stores I do not feel transfixed by a sense of cultural vitality. I brood about this a great deal” implying that the future is more present than distant. Considering the sheer popularity of the internet, it is possible that because one loves books they  hope to see them entwine with technology and the internet if only for their survival. One Bryn Mawr senior named Jen Rajchel is pioneering an online thesis project as opposed to a typical thesis paper by creating an online archive of Marianne Moore and her poetry. Jen admits to being resistant to the idea at first but then goes on to write “ I begin to further investigate the ways in which the web and applications such as Facebook and Twitter are transforming communication, it seems necessary, even urgent, that those interested in the humanities begin to explore digital representation”. Are there no options for books other than forcibly joining the digital race, or falling behind and becoming extinct?
    In The Institute for the Future of the Book website, it states “For the past five hundred years, humans have used print — the book and its various page-based cousins — to move ideas across time and space...we are combining media to forge new forms of expression. For now, we use the word "book" broadly, even metaphorically, to talk about what has come before — and what might come next”. I think there is no denying what will come next. Books will integrate with technology because it is evolution, one moves with the herd or one becomes extinct. Despite my deep love for books, a future with online novels is not horrible, a future where books are near nonexistent most definitely is although it is not likely that will occur because there are others like Birkets and myself out there putting up a fight to keep our books as books not “metaphorical versions of what might come next”. Keeping a balance is the key to a happy future for my best friend and luckily for him, the probability of that happening increases everyday.


1. Heart Pages (Google Images)
2. Home Alone (Google Images)
3. Book Hug (Google Images)
4. Laptop vs Book (Google Images) Link Unavailable

1.Institute for the Future of the Book. Website. Institute for the Future of the Book. MacArthur Foundation, University of Southern California. Web. 23 Mar. 2010. <>.

2.The Time of Reading. Boston Review, Sept. 1996. Web. 23 Mar. 2010. <>.

3."Moore and Media." Moore and Media. Jen Rajchel, Nov. 2009. Web. 23 Mar. 2010. <>.


Anne Dalke's picture

Apocalypse Now!

This is quite the romance! You paint such a compelling picture of the "bonding and deep-time" that takes place between you and your best friend(s), books -- before trying to give some space to an alternative point of view, the cheerful view of affordablity and accessibility articulated by the Institute for the Future of the Book -- that I'm not @ all convinced by the "balanced" synthesis towards which you gesture in the end: "a future with online novels is not horrible ... keeping a balance is the key to a happy future for my best friend."

There are of course many stages between the old-fashioned reading experience you most treasure and the future you most fear, one "where books are near nonexistent." Although you ask if there are "no options for books other than forcibly joining the digital race, or falling behind and becoming extinct," the structure of your essay actualy remains quite insistently binary. Its apocalyptic tone put me in mind of the Ray Bradbury novel, Fahrenheit 451 (and François Truffaut's film adaptation), with their bookburners and bookkeepers -- do you know this story?

Rather than urging you to read (or view!) it, let me invite you instead to spend some time imagining something more of that space inbetween bookburning and bookkeeping. You might start with mkarol's essay, Form or Content?, which addresses directly your question of whether words "have the same meaning when the medium changes" by distinguishing between "formless content" (in which re-mediating has little or no effect) and "definite content” (where the reformatting matters).

And you should certainly take a look @ Herbie's essay on "Snobby, Pretentious Books," which places your lament in a very striking historical perspective.