Is Still A Book
Filed under: SinceWhen • January 21st, 2009

Some thoughts on Mandy Brown’s “By any other name” over at A Working Library.

“Dramatic changes in form require equally dramatic changes in terms.”

“We will know we have arrived at a new form when we learn what to call it.”

This might be true when moving from one physical form to another. I don’t think this is the case when trying to replicate a physical form on a computer screen.

It has been my experience that no one refers to something like a Word file as an “electronic document”. When a computer file can duplicate the characteristics of any given physical documents well. It automatically inherits the name of the physical documents it represents. This holds true for text only files all the way to blueprints and everything in between. This is because the computer file delivers on expectations that are attached to the physical document from which it got its name.

Earlier in the same article the author made this point.

“The form of the book has persisted more or less unchanged for several hundred years now. The covers are generally softer, and the materials less precious, but Gutenberg would undoubtedly recognize the books of today as having more or less the same character as the books of his time. And well enough: the book is an object of technological invention that has functioned with only minimal advancement for centuries. Until recently, there was nothing broken, and therefore nothing to fix.”

I think people looking for new names and new form for books don’t fully appreciate the above. The fact you can’t dog ear a screen. Isn’t a problem with the book’s form, it’s a problem with screens. The book is not broken, which is why eReaders are solutions looking for a problem and have never taken off. Simply put new doesn’t equal better or improved.

When the day comes that technology is capable of equalling the book, I believe it will still be something that Gutenberg could easily recognize. This is because “electronic books” isn’t a poor choice in name. It is a description of what people want from technology. Unfortunately for all involved, replicating pages on screen isn’t cutting it.

Like the electronic documents before it people are not looking for a totally new way of presenting information. They are looking for what I would describe as, the structure paper gives them without the draw backs of it.