What is a book anyway?
Today, books are compilations of binary numbers housed in slim slabs of electronics or floating around in “clouds” owned by some of the biggest corporations on earth. I have many of these “books” on my electronic slabs or tucked away in some corner of Jeff Bezo’s increasingly huge cloud.
When I was doing some downsizing the other day I took a look at the books that were not collections of data but were sitting silently on my bookshelves. I felt…nostalgic about them. Just looking at some of the titles that have been with me for decades I began to do some time-traveling. I could remember exact moments of purchase, of opening the book, of smelling the unique aroma of a freshly printed book.
Then I thought of libraries and bookstores. Most libraries are still around but have adapted to the age and contain not only rows and rows of actual books but electronic media of all types and even services where you can download a book onto your electronic slab, no book need be checked-out. Many bookstores have not fared as well. There are still independents and Barnes & Nobel is still around — but struggling.
I stared at the shelf and decided not to decide. All the books can stay for now. Then it occurred to me that I have not read any of the books off the shelf in a long time. Even new ones were left unopened, unsmelled.
We have come a long way in the transfer and recording of information as a species, from ancient glyphs to rune stones to stone and clay tablets to papyrus to animal hides to rag paper to Penguin Paperbacks to electronic slabs.
What is a book? The word arises from a long history going back to Latin and Sanskrit. Since the early middle ages it has been in the physical form it still is today. The last fifteen years have seen words migrate from pages to 0 and 1’s, though.
Electronic slabs have their place. I like them. But thinking about the cool of electronic vs the warm of the pages in an actual book, I think it is time to revisit a bookshelf that exists not in the virtual world but in reality.
Maybe it’s time to buy an actual new book and feel and smell it again — and sit quietly and read.
And think, powered down, binary free.