A book contains stories and memories of people. I grew up in the society where some people read a classic novel to show off and would like to impress others by claiming that their hobby is reading. It shows a glimpse of how Korean society views and perceives the value of the book.
All media have a variety of perspectives on books. In most of the cases, people’s recognition of a book can be well described with these positive adjectives: intellectual, sentimental, sophisticated, and worthwhile. There are all kinds of beautiful praise words in the book, as described in the Bible, and we sometimes use those concepts to form social images of people. Like I mentioned above, most people say that reading is their hobby even though we all know that it is such a white-lie. By telling this white-lie, people would like to create their intended social images and be recognized as a well-informed person.
Everyone has memories and experiences uniquely related to a book: the memory of parents read bedtime stories to their kids before going to bed, the book that ex-boy/girlfriend used to read, and the smell of the bookshop. In this way, people encounter a book and fell in love with it by destiny. On the other hand, people sometimes feel uncomfortable or bored when it comes to reading or even are afraid of confronting books when they are forced to learn at school. Some students even get scolded when they pile up their books making a tower on their desks, and in the worst case, they use piled books as a pillow sleeping while drooling on their pillows. The experiences people can get from books are so extraordinary that they leave people with perception, memory, and feeling.
In my case, the reason I became close to the book is simple. When I was a young, I pretended to read a book so as to receive compliments from my parents and teachers. They always told me I was a good girl who loved reading a book though they did not care much about what kind of book I was reading. Regardless of the contents of the book, a mere act of reading allowed me to be portrayed as a kind child with considerable interests in reading a book, an intellectual medium. Contrary to my initial intention to be a “good girl who likes books” in order to take compliments, at some point of time, the book came into my life intensely, and we have formed a relationship that we dreamt of a future together.
Moreover, a book is a standard medium we encounter every day, but each simple book provides us with exceptional and even miraculous moments. The book offers people comfort and joy, sometimes knowledge and excitement. It can be a traveler, a companion, a teacher, and one’s alter ego. It is an emotional medium which is difficult to objectify./p>
However, recently most people say to books that they can no longer dream of their future together. Thanks to the advancement of technology, we have a new medium known as an electronic book, shortly called e-book. Sadly, it seems like e-books start affecting the value and meaning of books, raising a lot of questions about paper books’ existence and purpose. Is the e-book, about to be involved in our new way of life, a precursor to the end of the paper book? Can e-books satisfy the individual’s expectations of “paper books”? Electronic media may be able to ‘mimic,’ but whatever media we encounter in the future will be distinctly different from the book we experienced before. We will still remember different memories of paper books such as the pleasant smell of an old book, the color of the paper that fades with time, and the damp feeling of paper on a rainy day.
In this paper, I would like to talk about the value of the book from different point of views; and discuss the book’s present and its past, relating it with different kinds of literature and cases. It is possible that the paper book we know will be trapped in a museum in the distance future, and future books may not need media at all. However, this attempt to find the value of the book in a different perspective can delay the time books should go into a glass box in the museum or even it will give us different mindset; therefore, we can embrace the situation as it is. No one knows what will happen, but I sincerely hope that this paper can help to trace books in the past and values which we never thought about.
The death of the books
In Korea, we have the term ‘살책(殺冊)’ which means to massacre/kill the book. It is a combination of Chinese characters 殺 (to kill/massacre) and 冊 (a book). If you look at the meaning of massacre, it involves the indiscriminate killing of a large number of people. It would be more proper to use this term for living creature instead of an object; nonetheless, we use this verb when we refer to the mass destruction of books. Maybe it is because like us books have survived in the history and sometimes they are the victims of humanity in ideological, religious, and cultural conflicts.
Not only the destruction by certain incidents but also sometimes we destroy the book without knowing. This process can be described like the following. Books are getting piled up with other books in a limited space, making it challenging for us to find and classify them. Books, once useful, lose its usefulness and hide their trace. It does not mean that books vanish physically, but they are considered as non-existent. Lost their value, they occupy a small space in one’s shelves in a study, and eventually, they are discarded and destroyed.
There are many reasons why a book was destroyed in human history. The book could not escape its fate from natural disasters such as floods and fire, catastrophic biological destructions like worms and fungi, and wars. The word ‘war’ may sound unexpected and unfamiliar to us who live in the 21st century. It can be fallen under the category of natural causes of books’ end since it arises from a cause beyond our control like natural disasters. In fact, the destruction of books by natural disasters in human history is only approximately 30%. The remaining 70% accounts for a human cause. Why this happened and repeated? We cannot help but wonder that what kind of value and usefulness people in the past would like to seek while destroying the library in which a nation’s culture, belief, ideology, and knowledge were fully packed.
Books, Threaten by the
In the early Mesopotamian civilization, the fire was not a significant threat to the book made as a clay plate. However, when people started using papyruses and bamboos as ingredients of making books, the fire became a horrible monster which quickly destroys books at once.
Alexandria in Egypt was the best port on the Egyptian Mediterranean coast as well as a link to the rich granary of the Nile River basin. There stood a library of Alexandria with more than 200,000 papyrus. During that time, all books were made of papyrus. Scholars estimated it would be 400,000 books if we calculated the amount of papyrus based on the format we have in these days.
Julius Caesar, who fought with his half-brother and Cleopatra’s side, ordered to set fire to his ship at the port to protect them from the enemy coming by the sea. In the end, the fire moved to port and library of Alexandria, so all the books were burned. It was such a disaster that it was just a moment for books to vanish into ashes when it took so long time to set up the library and collect them.
Besides fire, how does water contribute to the damage to books? The water is also one of the great destroyers of the book. When we drop the water on the book, we can see the surface of the paper transforming immediately. Water in a liquid state is dangerous; water in a gaseous state is unsafe as well. When we leave the book in the room where the humidity is high, we can see that the paper becomes damp. Then the mold grows on the book, leaving the discoloration and staining.
We can prevent the moisture from slowly damaging the book; however, we can not do anything about the sea destroying thousands of books in a single gulp. There are cases that all books were buried at the sea due to a rainstorm. The Pirelli family had been collecting rare books written by Greek, Latin, and Italian over the several generations. In 1785, Pirelli’s sold their collections to a British bookseller, and they were carried by three ships from Venice to England. However, while going to England, one of the vessels was attacked by pirates. The Pirates, who were expecting great treasures, were disappointed when they saw the bunch of books and threw them into the sea. The books on other ships, however, arrived safely in England, and it was sold for over £ 9,000. Pirates would not have known what treasures they had thrown into the sea.
Compare to fire and water, bookworms contributed to destructing books, but luckily the damages caused by them were significantly reduced in the 19th century. A long time ago, when the books were made by hand, people took care of them so well that the bookworms could not eat out the book that much. However, during the period when an English poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake lived, he was not able to ignore the damage of bookworms. He even experimented with the bookworms and wrote a research paper on them when he was in college. His research topics were about “What kind of paper books bookworms love to eat?” and “How bookworms are able to survive in various circumstances?” From this, we can see how much they affected books in the 19th century. In fact, in the 20th century, bookworms no longer ate paper that contains all kind of chemicals, so the damages done by bookworms were reduced. Due to the blooming of printing technique, people started to access the book more efficiently, and it made people lose their interests in rare manuscripts. Therefore, bookworms have taken over the book in the library again. In particular, there was a time when bookmakers bound the book with a wooden plank, which became the habitat of all kinds of worms. Bookworms living in the wood plank started eating the cover and the paper as well. That is the reason why we can see diagonally long holes in several old books.
There is No Sin to Books:
Death of Books by Human Causes
In the society during Middle Age, having the books was a part of privileges that clergy and nobility who used to control the Christian religion could have. Therefore, books became exclusive property for the privileged class. In the early years of the 18th century, the relationship between the books and reader strengthened because publishing was rapidly developed. Since then the books had glorious days till in the early years of the 20th century. The explosion of information since the middle of the 20th century allowed people to have much knowledge and take advantage of the competition in the society.
In the book, Book on Fire by Lucien X. Polastron explains that in the human history, human’s desire to collect and have the knowledge of the world to one place is a primal desire to be in the position of God. This desire created a library, and at the same time, the history of looting and destruction began. Furthermore, when power matters are involved, people have the obsession to increase the number of books they own while destroying the books their enemy possesses.
I mentioned above that the book was the exclusive property of privilege class such as nobility and clergy, but they have not only had knowledge but also gained power from it. In other words, it does not sound strange that the owner of the book dominates the world during the time of Middle Age. For authorities knew the power of books which could be the weapon threatening the ruling class, they made the list of ‘banned books’ which should be forbidden to read due to its contents going against the Christian religion and their nation.
Moreover, people used the books to take a break from the political fatigue. In China, under the belief of “Those who gain knowledge will become a bourgeois!” Mao Zedong and other rulers destroyed tons of books by saying, “Ignorant workers are better than ignorant exploiters." Also, Fidel Castro, a revolutionary Cuban communist and politician who governed the Republic of Cuba, said, “I can give anything in the revolution. However, nothing is allowed to escape the revolution!” In the period, only Che Guevara’s books and related discourses were allowed in Cuba. Surprisingly, Cuban National Library has just three writings of George Orwell.
The books by Thomas Mann, Emil Zola, Marcel Proust and Marx labeled as “decadent writings,” were burned in May 1935. In a total of 131, books written by distinguished authors of the time disappeared into the fire, and what was burned were the works by philosophers such as Kafka, Tsukuba, and Hoffmann Stahl. A German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht wrote the poem related to this incident. The poem called The Book burning(original title: Die Bücherverbrennung). He was disappointed that his book was not on the list of book burning, so he composed a poem "burn my book!" as a gesture against the mockery of Hitler’s bustle.
“When the regime ordered
Books with dangerous knowledge
To be burned in public and everywhere
Oxen were forced to pull, carts with books
to the bonfires, one of the persecuted poets
discovered one of the best
studying the list of the burned
disconcerted, that his books were forgotten.
He rushed to his desk, flying on wings of rage
and wrote a letter to the authorities.
Burn me! he wrote with a quick stroke
Burn me! Don’t do this to me! Do not spare me!
Have I not always reported the truth in my books?
Now you treat me as were I a liar!
I command you: Burn me!”
In fact, in the death of books, human contributed the most enormous and most devastating destruction. There are some cases that the book was destroyed for political purpose, but it also disappeared due to human’s ignorance. However, ironically the book collectors, who love books and know the value, also contributed to the death of books.
In the past, the book collectors did not have much interest in keeping the book as it is. They just cut off the part people would like and sold it together with parts from other books. They thought more about how much money they could earn with these pieces of paper than contents and beauty of books. In the 18th century, John Beckford, one of the founders of The British Antique Dealers’ Association, traveled around the local libraries and cut off the part of numerous rare books. He categorized them by countries and regions and made a book out of it. This book is now kept in the British Museum. It is clear that this book contributed to summarizing the history of printing, but at the same time, this whole process made the book lose all of its originality and became disabled. Some of the collectors only cut off portraits of the book. Nowadays, there are many photographs in the book. However, that time, painters drew the picture of the main character of the book. Even some people bought the book to have the portrait drawn by a famous painter.
Occasionally, non-collectors also plunged into the destruction without feeling guilty of destroying the book. Some boys played with cut off the inspiring message of the book. Therefore, the only decorative letter that was not beautiful in their perspective could survive and keep its original form till now.
Of course, there are many cases that the rare books, which could be destroyed to a cloud of dust, be handed down to posterity because of the collectors who put the effort and passion in it. However, there is no excuse for the destruction caused by an excessive obsession with books in some cases. This type of destructing power comes from the desire to take out the part they want rather than preserving the book as it is. Still nowadays if you go to a library, often you would find the books with some attractive pictures ripped off. It is such a contradiction that people, who know the value of the book, contributed to destruct and damage it.
The Present: Why people love books?
In the previous chapter ‘The Death of Books,’ we have looked into books confronting their tragic destiny that people destroyed them for different reasons: political reasons, or obsessive love.
On the other hand, in this chapter, which is going to describe the heyday of books, will be about the reason why people love books. Some people show their affection for books as they do the same for people. There are two types of book-lovers; they are those who cause the death of the book, but how they treat the book is completely different. Both book lovers are similar in a way that they both love the book, but one killed books and the other sacrificed themselves instead for the sake of books. In this chapter, I would like to describe what kind of special values in a book people can find and how people feel about this object differently.
The book we are aware of is the most direct tool to transform a text into a solid form. According to the era, ingredients of this tool have ranged from bamboo, papyrus, mud-plates to silk. These materials were utilized to inscribe texts. If people had not taken account of standardization agreement and distribution network to exchange it systematically, then books could have been considered just as a tool with texts.
A book may be conceived as a medium to carry texts from one place to another. On the other hand, concerning contents and context, the concept of a book is a somewhat complicated three-dimensional concept. A book does not stop at a single point. It is a planar object, which has a uniform texture (at least for now), filled with texts-abstract concepts. However, the idea of a book raises new questions beyond one or two dimensions, transforming itself to a three-dimensional object. This object may be represented by x, y, z-axes.
This independent and flexible object allows individuals to have wide ranges of experiences depending on their capability. Who in the world would not have the desire to possess this noble object? A bibliographer Laurens Russe once said: “The urge to collect books is like fermentation, so the law cannot stop it. As long as books exist, book collectors will surely be there.” To people who cling to a book, a book can be their last will when they die. Some committed murder because the book and other people have changed the way of their lives.
For example, the former monk Don Vincente was from Spain in the 19th century. He worked as a librarian for an old collection of books, and he loved the book so much that he left the monastery and opened a bookstore. He had an unusual hobby to collect rare books and wanted to have Furs e Ordinations de Valencia (“Edicts and Ordinances for Valencia”) by Lambert Palmart. The book came out to the auction but fell into the hands of another bookseller. After that, the bookseller was murdered, and Vicente was arrested as a suspect because the book ‘Edicts and Ordinances for Valencia’ was discovered in his house. Vicente’s attorney argued that the book was not the original one. The attorney gave the proof that the same book was found in France, but it could not overturn the trial. Eventually, Vicente was sentenced to death, but he was plagued by the fact that his book was not the only one. Even at the last minute when he was being executed, he screamed out, “My book is not the only one!”
In this regard, ‘The great book thief of the time’ Stephen Bloomberg is awful. He stole 23,600 rare books from 268 libraries across the United States for 20 years to make the Bloomberg collection. The books Bloomberg had stolen worthed $20 million. His mother had a mental problem, and he wanted to be acknowledged by people through his collecting rare books.
To people who see a book only as a daily object, it can not be valuable. However, to people who think this object has the same value as a treasure may want to curse people who steal their books as what it is written in the Monastery of San Pedro.
“For him, that steals, or borrows and does not return, a book from this owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying out for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sinks in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that does not die, and when at last he goes to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.” (Basbanes, 35)
This text gives us two entirely different ideas. One may think this passage is terrifying and harsh, but at the same time, it makes people sympathized with those who love books.
Some people like books for the impression they can achieve from reading books, but we cannot ignore the value of this object as it is. This value does not always come from the physical tactility, but still, everyone knows what it is and feels it differently. One’s reading experience may be different from others.
Each paper book consists of various touches, textures, colors, and weights. Besides, you can feel different depending on contents such as text, picture, and drawing. When we read a book, we forget about ourselves and the object itself; it means we become more engaged with this object and share the intimate moments.
It gives us the moment to be alone without being disturbed by anyone. Also, it is the time to start sharing the feeling with the book itself. When you begin to read a book, you can have a natural rhythm between lines as flow into line by line, and when you flip the page, you go into the new world inside the book.
One of the bridges connecting people with books and allowing to have this intimate moment of touching. A lot of times, touching can be more than seeing. Sometimes, even we know something and have trouble describing, but we can imagine the feeling of touching something.
When an e-book was just launched, people came up with the divergent opinion about the future of paper books. But one of the reasons why people argued that paper books would not disappear is that they are sure about people would not give up with the unique touch of paper, the sound when people flip the page and the weight of holding the paper in their hand.
If you read the paper books by using this sense, you can fall into the book and get more things. When you read just with your eyes, you can only get the information and knowledge of the book, but when you started to concentrate on your own senses like touching and feeling of the book, you can get even more. For example, you will begin to think about the purpose of using this paper and imagine about the new world the writer and book designer made together.
It depends on the person, but some people keep their hands busy when they read the book. You can draw underline, circles and cross mark an essential part of a book, or make interim notes. And it is the start point of making a special relationship between a book and reader.
Many people say e-book will become famous instead of paper books. But even if it becomes a favorite medium to read the text, is it possible to read the book with this feeling of touch? For now, it is impossible to have the warm touch like turning over the page of the paper books when you put your finger on the smartphone screen or click the mouse. The mechanical cold contact has a limitation in activating cells of the whole body and mind. According to development of technology, many tech-sounds disappeared. When I was a kid, I used the interface of Windows 98. It had a particular sound when I reboot the computer. I can not remember other features, but I can still remember the sound of old keyboard and the faint smell of computer. Sound, smell and tactile sense are the mediators that stimulate human’s memory. A small stimulus is enough to remind us the memories. So in this regard, we can say that this peculiarity of uniqueness already has own value. Even if we can reproduce the tactile and sound of paper books technically, since we have perception and remember the feeling of touch the paper book, it seems difficult to change the recognition of e-books compared to the paper books we have.
Nevertheless, we still should think about the future of book because ignorance never gives a solution. There is a book ‘The book’ by Zoran Zivkovic, the books themselves speak by making an analogy between man’s fate and that of books. In ‘The book,’ the book said:
“This has been the case for a long time, and lately it’s been getting even harder. You could say, with entire justification, that we are an endangered species—on the verge of extinction, in fact. And were that to happen it would be an incalculable loss, because we are no ordinary species…... But when one of the only two intelligent life-forms ever to grace this world is faced with disappearance, that is a genuine evolutionary catastrophe.” (Zivkovic, 9)
In ‘The Book’ As Zoran Zjivković mentioned, paper books are in danger of extinction, and if we would like to save this intelligent creature, then we must conduct a thorough study of it. If we could understand what makes the paper book unique and how it is related to our lives, then we would be able to rescue the paper book from this bleak future.
The Future of Books
Oftenly, a crisis gives rise to the reason. If the paper book had not had the crisis such as the invention of an e-reader and the development of technology, probably people might not pay attention to the existence of a paper book, and books would remain as everyday objects without their values being noticed.
Nevertheless, there are still people who would notice the value of a book. Who predicts the future of the books and how are they able to do so? Is the end of the book near us as many scholars, philosophers, and political and economic leaders have predicted?
In the previous chapters, we have looked at the past and present of the books; therefore, we cannot help but be curious about the future of books. This chapter may be harsh to the analog people who enjoy touching the paper and are expecting a positive future of the book. Probably, to some people, this will be the bitter truth to admit but whether we like it or not, the time has already come when most people can not take their eyes off of the text on the screen. Most people think e-books are only the “text” of stories and essays that have been transferred from paper medium to mobile devices. There is a gap between a book and a thin device called an e-reader, but the insights or messages of texts you can get are just the same. In this sense, it is a misinterpretation that people no longer read. To be precise, people are not reading the ‘paper book’ anymore.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
When we looked back the history of development and the moment that people had to switch to another medium, we can easily infer that people are tended to be afraid of something beyond their knowledge and experiences.
“I have heard of one woman who, when her neighbour bought a television, tried to avoid going too near the connecting wall between their two houses when she could hear it was switched on. If she really had to go to that side of the room, she would crouch down low in an attempt to pass under the rays.”
At that time, naturally, people anticipated that radio, the only media transmitting the information, would disappear soon. Also, people with prejudice and antipathy towards television called TV ‘the Boob Tube’ because they thought TV induced foolishness or were watched by foolish people. This thought comes from the idea that the television would make people keep looking at the screen all the time and made them unthinkable and stupid since they had never had any experience about this medium. It took quite a long time to escape the stigma of the boob tube. Doesn’t it sound familiar? Indeed, it is pretty similar to the situation between the past and future of a paper book and an e-reader.
Let me elaborate more on the example above. Another example of other media at risk was the LP. When a cassette tape was invented, there was no doubt that it attracted more people due to the its portability. Although It was not a controversial development as much as the television, people thought that the LP might disappear as well. However, unlike people’s expectations, people still buy and collect the vinyl records and even pay extra money for old LPs because people consider the value in it. This value is personal, thus in technical point of view, the act of buying an outdated old medium could seem strange or even crazy. To us who live in the modern society, it would be easier to play the same music on cassette tapes, CDs or to play the music on the Youtube and repeat playback than to play an vinyl record.
Compared to the television and vinyl records, of course, there are some objects disappearing into the mists of history like a floppy disk which is an ancestor of the storage medium. In 2012, Apple launched new MacBook without CD drive. It showed that CD was added on the list of technical extinction. Apparently, some media have disappeared, and some still have survived. I would like to find out how those media could survive even in that desolate condition and how other media could possibly survive in the coming age.
It will be easier if we start with the uniqueness of the paper book. What are the reasons why the paper book has survived till now? As it is mentioned in the previous chapter, if we define the meaning of a book, then the book is just a tool that carries the text. We can quickly think about umbrellas as an example for this case. The shape of the umbrella has not changed that much from the shape when it was first invented. From the ‘갈모/Kalmo/(in Korean)' which is a rain cover for a hat to an automatic umbrella, the shape of an umbrella which is holding the edge, around the center of the circle did not change much. Even in the film Minority Report(2002) by Steven Spielberg, which depicts the future in 2054, people unfurl their umbrellas when it rains. There were many attempts to make a new type of umbrella, but every time it failed. People have invented an umbrella that looks like a dome that wrapped around the upper body and an umbrella that bounces the raindrop, but it all failed to be marketed widely. Despite numerous attempts, the umbrella we are still carrying today had a similar shape to an umbrella two thousand years ago. Maybe the shape of the umbrella we have has the maximum that an umbrella can reach as itself. The inherent and essential function of the umbrella is to prevent people from getting wet when people should walk around on rainy days. In the age we live, if we would like to add more functions, we can. However, that is just an addition to the main purpose of an umbrella. The meaning of additive easily goes on the same line with unnecessary. Like this, when we see the example of the umbrella, we can easily find similarity with paper books.
Nevertheless, books will survived
In 1894 Octave Uzanne and Albert Robida declared in La fin des livres: “Books must disappear, or they will ruin us. In the whole world there are eighty to a hundred thousand books published each year, and at a thousand copies each this is more than one hundred million specimens, of which the majority contain only trash and errors.”
Like what Octave Uzanne and Albert Robida have said, we may live in the society which is sometimes suffering from a flood of information. But still, should the book necessarily disappear? Even though the paper books are having a hard time and many people are expecting the discomfort of using the paper book, but it is still alive.
Apparently, the paper book became weaker than the old days, but still, take the spot due to the technical reasons. The growth of all industries is related to the continuous connection between producers and consumers, and the commercial sales and profits through them. The paper books were closer to our lives than we thought. It means this object may be parasitic on us and possibly we are parasitic on them. As it is mentioned earlier in the chapter ‘present’, this medium is faithful to human's senses. Related to this human’s senses, Maryanne Wolf, a professor of Tufts University in the United States, said in the book ‘Proust and the squid’ that “The paper books are an excellent medium for created maps of thoughts while reading.”
Compared to the e-book, paper books are reproducing and creating memories by the stability of the paper size and a clear margin of the paper book probes the relative superiority in understanding the whole context of letters and contents. In 2011, the Guardian published an interesting analysis of the use of books and e-books by young readers in the UK. A 2013 survey by the youth research agency Voxburner found that 62% of 16- to 24-year-olds preferred print books to e-books. The most popular reason given was: “I like to hold the product.” Also, respectively, in questionnaires, the most preferred media were the newspapers(47%), magazines, CDs (32%) and video games (31%). Luke Mitchell, the Advice Manager of Voxburner in England, said, "We have been thinking that teenagers aged 16 to 24 have felt an attachment to smartphones and digital machines. However, I am very surprised that many results favor paper books." The reason why readers still prefer paper books is that they are satisfied with reasonable price value and emotional sympathy for the real thing.
Adult readers, the market’s mainstream, are still familiar with the paper books and are entering their reading pattern concerning e-reader’s convenience. However, the children and adolescent, so-called digital natives, when the moments they enter into the adult reading worlds come then undergo significant changes in books over the next 10-20 years. If so, we should pay attention to the contention from Nicolas Carr, an America writer and futurologist, through the column Don’t burn your books–Print is here to stay. In the column, he said that it was highly exaggerated about a time-limited life towards to the paper book. In November 2007, when Amazon unveiled the Kindle or an e-reader, the experts have announced that the future of publishing is up to the digital world. Of course, they expressed different opinions about the speed of moving from a paper book to e-reader.
Nevertheless, most experts agreed with the view that most of the books will be digitized after a certain period together with music, dictionaries, and map. On the other hand, Nicolas Carr said, “A paper book, created by Gutenberg’s letterpress, which survived the last 500 years of technological development, will withstand the trials of the ‘digital revolution’ like before.”
Moreover, in This is Not the End of the Book Umberto Eco argues that the book is as complete as a fork or wheel, and it will never disappear. It is hard to imagine that the internet or smartphone will replace a book which is the object people put so much effort for a long time and has a close relationship with human’s sense. Eco just says that if a paper book disappeared, ‘something similar to the book’ will appear. Personally, I genuinely think his idea is convincing enough. iPod or iTunes does not mimic the properties of a CD player or a walkman. However, the company produces the e-reader focuses on imitating the feeling that flipping through the pages of the paper book and properties of the book because they know that this sense is one of the essential components of a book. This direction of technological development shows that even if the paper book would disappear, the new type of book, we will have, will resemble with the format of a book what we have now.
Is the moment now we have is most dramatic moment among the many crises and changes that a book has undergone? It is hard to say that is true. For instance, the type of changes in the nature of paper book had before and after the Gutenberg revolution may have been more severe than the difference between paper books and e-reader. In the history, the book which was a valuable item because of copied all the content by hand by hand, became one of the world mass-produced items. However, the change came from Gutenberg revolution, fundamentally changed the way humans produce, distribute and consume knowledge. If so, what we need is rather than worrying about predicting the last winner of e-books or paper books, perhaps the fundamental idea of how we will change the way people accept human knowledge through e-books and paper books.
In modern times, many people are concerned about the usefulness of objects. The useless objects are quickly discarded, and vanish. Unfortunately, the paper books too were unable to escape from what is destined to. People predicted the end of the paper books without a hesitation for many reasons. For example, people these days do not have enough time to read books, and instead of looking up in heavy thick books, they can get the information on the internet with ease. There is no doubt that this condition to get the information makes us think about the value and usefulness of book.
In this sense, this story gives us much thought about uselessness of book. Hans Andersen, a well-known writer of fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina, wrote a fairy tale ‘She was good for nothing’(1853). The story is about a miserable mother who is a sick and poor washer. She works in cold water all day and drinks in the evening to warm her body. She wishes that her son would never live in such a poverty she suffers from. The mayor of the village tells the son that his mother is good for nothing because she is poor and alcoholic. At the end of the story, her mother eventually passes away in cold water while she was at work. At the funeral, the son exclaims and sobs loudly.
“Oh, my poor mother!” he cried, while the tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Is it true what they say, that she was good for nothing?”
Like the mother who can be seen as good for nothing towards to people in the story, an object called a book does its best to fulfill its valuable existence. We live in a world where people talk that everything has value in it, but it is not common that the object has the value of being as it is.
The invention of the e-book made us think about the utility of the paper book and gradually established the sense of crisis. We have seen e-book as a bastard born to ruin the noble realm of the paper books. In fact, this can not be true regarding the fundamental purpose of books in human history: ‘transmitting information’. The fundamental purpose of a book is in the ‘acquisition of information’, not in the ‘the tool to obtain information’. Whatever the medium is, if people can enjoy and get the information they need, that may be already enough. If we divide paper books and e-reader with a dichotomous view and put ourselves in only one place, it would shrink the world we can see. Why do you refuse to accept new civilizations just because of you love a paper book? Rather than doing a duel to the death, the paper books and e-reader should be complementary to each other. In The human condition German philosopher Hannah Arendt defines the meaning of publicness through the concept of diversity and mentions the importance of a public sphere that is based on vigilant against privatization. In other words, she says ‘the true existence of a common world for a more inclusive public sphere, can be truly and definitely established when things are observed by many people in diverse perspectives without losing its identity; thus, people around the object can see the same thing even in extreme diversity.’
What Hannah Arendt said is closely connected to the reason I wrote this paper; Seeing and observing from the different point of view brings new value to it. In spite of attempts to find new value by people who love books, still one day the paper book may become extinct and disappear. However, disappearing is also a signal that new things are born. In addition, what is more important than death is what we have done while we are alive and what we have left to be commemorated.
A famous historian Barbara Tuchman’s 1980 address at the Library of Congress describes the humanist’s attitude toward books: “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows on the world, and (as a poet has said) ‘lighthouses erected in the sea of time’. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print” (Tuchman 1980,13).
The paper book can be depicted differently depending on a person, but when personally I imagine a paper book as a human being, it reminds me of a thoughtful grandfather sitting in a comfortable rocking chair. He said such a dynamic life; hurted by people, enjoyed his heyday, suffered from criticism. But still, our grandfather, the paper book, taught us what we did not know while we grew up and supported our thought in behind. If the paper book is a human, I truly believe that he will respect and strongly affirm our thoughts until he dies. Just like he did before.