Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

Jeff Gomez

I have to preface this by saying that I haven’t actually read this whole book yet, but rather listened to some excerpts. I will appreciate the irony (noted by Gomez) that I will be reading a book about how reading paper books is dead when the time comes, but I wanted to put down some thoughts before I lost them.

Gomez submits here that the debate over the coming demise of printed books is moot, as print is already dead, much in the way that global warming may have already been tipped too far to be corrected. Basically, we are all just waiting for the technology that will free us from bound paper.

Part of his proof is that we already read so much online. This is the main point in which I disagree, personally — despite reading a lot online, I generally don’t read long texts online. Even New Yorker short stories I may read from their site get printed out (like this week’s Raymond Carver story). The longer pieces found in The New York Times Magazine also are too much for me to read online, and I generally just skim through until my eyes get tired. Many people I know say the same thing. Yet, if the right technology comes along, that could change, so I also kind of agree with him.

There are some interesting discussions on the Print is Dead blog, including one here where Siva Vaidhyanathan, a fellow at the Institute of the Future of the Book “think-and-do tank,” argues against considering the children of today as “Digital Natives.” He suggests it’s not accurate to judge trends by only looking at wealthy, white, educated people, but in some ways reading this exchange made me realize that it doesn’t really matter. If we do move into a total digital age where gadgets are a necessary means to read and become educated, it will likely make the divide between the educated and the uneducated wider and even more obviously defined by class lines.

When Gomez said in the book, It’s simply not possible that the Internet is going to have an effect on every area of our lives except reading books… I had to admit that it’s hard to argue against that, regardless of the implications. Sometimes I think my knee-jerk reaction to ebooks is largely rooted in questions of design. No one talks about what the pages on Amazon’s new Kindle reader look like except to say there are more fonts than previous devices. I won’t be as defiant as Chip Kidd, but I will disagree with the second commenter on this post who says:

I think my favorite example of The Book vs. The Words is Salinger’s entire collection. All of his books are published with nothing but plain white covers with seven little lines of color in the upper right corner.

I interpret his comment to mean that those books weren’t designed, as proof that it doesn’t matter how books are housed, it’s only the words that matter. But they were (likely with much control from Salinger himself) and are now iconic to many. You can tell someone is reading one of those particular Salinger paperbacks easily from ten feet away. That is, regardless of someone’s appreciation of the particular aesthetic, a successful design.

In that regard, I think we are losing something in this digital age where our media is delivered by gadgets. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.