Books are dying.
They are an endangered species. They are bodies on a battlefield. They are on their way out. To misquote John Lennon “Books will go. They will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that”. This is not a call to arms. This is a eulogy.
Books have long been the staple food source of the library diet, and tastes are changing. The technology of the printed word has been passed and surpassed by the most rapid, least bloody revolution in human history. A revolution that occurs every second, that shifts and advances every year, and gives birth to sweeping cultural changes in ten years. We are entering strange new world of invention and artificiality, of possibility and accessibility. Entire personalities are created and discarded online, with information that is generated unique and instantaneous. Sitting in libraries, we devour knowledge via glowing screens, at a rate as fast as our eyes and brain can coordinate. Learning is the ingestion of light, rather than words.
I refute Yann Martel’s statement “Books last”. They will not last much longer. Scholars of tomorrow have no use for the clumsy and time consuming medium of Books. A single lengthy digital scroll will enter our minds, unhindered by cumbersome physicality. The author’s voice will be unmitigated by anything but what they wrote. Books will not endure, they will fade from un-use until they expire, quietly and alone.
“Blasphemy!” You cry, “Heresy!” To which I will misquote the monk Línjì Yìxuán and say “the Buddha you met on the road is not the true Buddha. If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. Then you will be free.” As librarians and technicians of information, we should embrace this. We need to start accustoming our habits to the database of the human mind, start learning how to manage the ephemeral. This is the future of knowledge, the transient and momentary, not the false Buddha-mind that comes from years of study and meditation. It is time to take a page from the Luddite playbook. Smash the old ways, embrace the new ones. Burn the books, kill the Buddha, buy an iPad.
Books are redundant. Digital screens that mimic the soft, inviting texture of paper will surely kill the need for books. E-readers now offer the same experience in a more versatile and comprehensive form. Physical books will become fetishized objects, relics of the romantic sentimental longing for the time when things were better. The Golden Age of Reading, when every citizen had their personal library. The literary champions of the past will give tours of their obsolete and quaint House of Books, filled with the tokens of their childhood (“my first boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, with covers by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote and illustrated Jumanji”), the mementos of places once lived(“This copy of Beautiful Losers I picked up while studying in Montreal, from a second hand bookstore in Mile End” ), and the symbols of status and companionship (“Yes, I have read War and Peace. In fact I have a rare, leather bound first edition, signed by the author himself, just over here”). Books are fine objects, beautiful and comforting, but in a country where literacy is as widespread as a viral video of Kittens inspired by kittens on Youtube, who needs ‘em?
No, ignore the sentimental romantics and outdated traditionalists. Ignore the book fairs and second hand booksellers. Ignore your colleagues and book club members. Ignore the books on your shelves and stacked next to your bed. Ignore me, if you want, but know that my words will live in the digital firmament, to be discovered or discarded equally. “Preservation?” you ask. “Who needs it?” I answer. Or rather, who needs to take care of it? We will save what we want, and the rest will pass like detritus along the river. Books may embody information as much as convey it, but is it not information that can be got elsewhere? Books are the detritus of our memory, and will be swept away when we have no more use for them.
Books will die, but they must before they can be resurrected.
Abrahamse, Ben. (2007). “Of Many Book, There Is No End”. The Marginal. 15(1)
Fournie, James. (2005). “Facing the Future”. The Marginal. 13(1)
Cleave, Maureen (2007). “The John Lennon I Knew”. Telegraph.co.uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2005/10/05/bmlennon05.xml. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
Dilevko, J., & Gottlieb, L. (2003). Resurrecting a Neglected Idea: The Reintroduction of Library-Museum Hybrids. The Library Quarterly, 73(2), 160-198.
Fogerty, J. E. (2000). Balancing the content and the container: defining the role of artifacts in the digital age. Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services, 24(2), 251-265.
“Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” by Jerry Mander
“Killing the Buddha” by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau http://killingthebuddha.com/
“What’s Stephen Harper Reading” by Yann Martel http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/
“The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession” by Allison Hoover Bartlett