Publishers Weekly reported today that Neil Gaiman addressed the fifth London Book Fair Digital Minds Conference by saying, “People ask me what my predictions are for publishing and how digital is changing things and I tell them my only real prediction is that is it’s all changing,” Gaiman said. “Amazon, Google and all of those things probably aren’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing.”
This expresses my own feelings so succinctly that I couldn’t resist writing a bit more.
Yesterday, at a coffee shop (change), a young man sat with his large bag (change) stuffed with a mobile keyboard (change) and a pair of tennis shoes (older technology), sipping on a latté (change), and reading a paperback (older technology, around the 1940s). It’s one of those images that represent a specific moment in our evolution.
As a long-time student of children’s books and publishing, it is fascinating to be in the midst of change. I picture folks sitting around the dinner table grumbling about “that new machine they’re trying out at the print shop” during what would later be called the Industrial Revolution. Those folks weren’t aware of the big picture. They didn’t know how radically their lives were being altered by advancing industrialization. We’ve had to live with that for more than one hundred years and we’re still reeling from the effects as we lose specialized craftspeople and knowledgeable store clerks and highly skilled teachers because of what a machine can do.
Wherever we go, e-books are a hot topic. Today, in a time that will surely be described with a name (selection to come), we have more than enough ways to communicate, often instantly. People can stir each other up faster than the nightly news ever did. A little bit of change occurs, somebody makes a bigger profit than someone else, someone tries to sew up the rights in a monopolizing way … and it trends on Twitter. e-books are still being discussed as though there’s a choice.
“Do you have a reader?”
“Do you really read books on that thing? I can’t stand it.”
“I find it so hard to concentrate when I read an e-book.”
“Kids will lose out on so much if they don’t read bound books.”
Yes. And no. Everyone has individual needs, responses, and preferences. We’ll all sort this out, but it takes time. Technology changes daily. Just as we get used to looking at a chopped-up, un-numbered, picture-on-a-page-by-itself, discombobulating e-book, someone adapts the form and produces a beautiful volume that’s a pleasure to read.
Amazon.com and Google and Facebook and Apple and Microsoft have driven much of the progress because they are embracing change. Scientific American reported that reading on a screen is definitely having an effect on our brains.
I firmly believe we all must accept that change is happening all around us. We’ll be happier, feel more satisfied. Carve out your close-held communities, whether they are actual or digital. Enjoy exchanging digital images of places you may never see in person. Visit the National Parks and record your memory-fresheners on paper, on your tablet, with your cell phone camera, or by painting. Read e-books you might not have access to in a printed-and-bound book. Revel in your collection of first editions. Remember all the good things and be a part of bringing them forward as change occurs. Be an innovator. Embrace the possibilities that appeal to you. Stand up for the change you would like to see happen.
Discussion is worthwhile, comparison is instructive, but complaining and trying to stop change are time ill spent. e-Books are here to stay. In ten years they will more than likely resemble their current form as much as a Volkswagen bus looks like a horse. Have fun exploring, experimenting, and expediting the changes you find serve you best. Tell everyone about the excellent e-books you read and let the rest float away as lightweight attempts at a new technology. Enjoy print books in ways you never have before, knowing they are a unique form we’ve enjoyed for hundreds of years. There’s room in our hearts and minds for all of it.