Yesterday's news included laments about the closing of the Borders book store chain. Headlines proclaimed "A blow to book lovers!" and similar sentiments. How silly.
Can we please not confuse the container for the thing contained? Thanks to James Thurber, I know that's metonymy, but I also know that books are really the words within, not the physical paper, cardboard and ink that has been their form for the past half millennia or so.
More to come
If you think closing Borders was awful, hang on to your seat: they'll all be closing soon enough. Borders didn't fail because people don't read. Borders failed because on-line stores can deliver books more efficiently and because a fast growing share of that delivery is electronic.
Metonymy aside, the world of books is changing.
Electronic books aren't a fad: they'll be replacing physical books more and more. In twenty years or so, "real" books may not even be produced and if they are, they will be rare and expensive.
Publishers are next
This involves the end of publishing houses, too. The demise of the physical printing side is obvious, but self publishing - without the assistance of publishers - is starting to become important. An author named John Locke has proven that rather convincingly and has published a book that tells you how he became a million copy author WITHOUT a publisher, publicist, press agent or anything like that.
I gave you the link to the Kindle version, by the way.. there is a hard cover version if you foolishly insist. You do know that you can get a free Kindle reader for almost anything you might be using to read this page, right? Forget PDF's and all the rest: Kindle is becoming the standard for publishing.
The world isn't ending
It's silly to moan about this. Would you have any sympathy for some 15th century bibliophile who lamented the passing of illuminated scrolls? Oh, that Gutenberg is going to destroy reading!
E-books and on-line stores aren't going to destroy reading either. Brick and mortar book stores, sure. Publishing houses, yes. Even libraries, eventually, although misplaced sentimentality will keep those around longer than they have any reason to survive,
I know this makes some people angry. The demise of libraries is particularly apt to infuriate people. I'm sorry: it's inevitable. Closing Borders is just the beginning.
This doesn't mean the end of reading and certainly not the end of knowledge. It doesn't mean idiocracy. It's just technological change, just like Gutenberg. A different container for the thing that really is important. Nothing to get upset about.
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