I am a reader. I always have been and I suspect I always will be. However, I find the latest trend towards the devaluing of paper books to be a bit sad.
Allow me to qualify this post – I am a fan of the e-reader (I have a Kindle) and I enjoy electronic fiction and short stories as much as the next person. But there is a large part of me that gets wonderfully lost in a paper reference book. It used to be that the purchase of such a book made me feel excited for the new learning levels I could reach and confident that I had invested in some good material. I was reminded today that this is no longer the case.
Depending on how you read and interpret the facts, books first appeared about 5,000 years ago. And here we are today, continuing to rely on this ancient source of information. Just today, I received a textbook I had purchased for the writing courses I’m taking, which was originally printed in 1980 and updated as a second edition in 1998. It felt good when it arrived, to touch the new pages and physically flip through the first few chapters. But as I was looking into the second book for this course, most recently updated in 1994, I couldn’t help but ask the question: Is this book too old to be valuable? The general consensus seems to be yes.
Everything is changing so fast these days. The advent of the Internet started this revolution and it seems to be getting faster and faster with each passing day. Unfortunately, books are the latest casualty to fall to this trend. Granted, it depends a bit on the subject matter; but it seems as though no sooner are the words on the page and the book on the shelf that something has changed and a new edition is required. I guess that’s why more and more people are looking towards wikis (such as Wikipedia) as sources of up to date reference details – as online, collaborative resources, the information there is generally accurate and up to date. It is also constantly evolving because it’s online and easily updated & maintained.
I agree wholeheartedly that, for some things, information is changing too rapidly for a printed book to keep up. But I also believe there is something to be said for the physical reference book – you don’t have to accept each word as the absolute truth, but that doesn’t mean its ideas and information are no longer valid.
And sadly, I am also a nostalgic fool who believes there will never be anything quite like a good, paper-bound book.