Why On Earth Print A Book On Paper In This Electronic Day And Age?


The board of examiners

Books! Books! Glorious books!

More and more of what we write now is both produced and kept electronically so ... wouldn't it be far better to produce an ebook or a website or a blog or something else electronic?

Why an "old-fashioned" book printed on ... paper, for Heaven's sake?

Newton's "Pocket-Book"

Back in the early 1990s, when I was working for a British bank in Zurich, I was shown a 12-inch optical disc, the same size as a vinyl "LP", which was full of banking data. It had the same wonderful iridescent sheen of a CD or DVD but was that much bigger.

In 2002, I was lucky enough to go round the Book Bindery, part of the Conservation Department at the University Library in Cambridge, and I saw someone there who was very carefully re-covering an old book. I enquired what sort of book would require such careful attention, and the use of expensive vellum, and was told that it was one of Isaac Newton's "pocket-books".

The book itself must have been well over 300 years old.

Suddenly confronted with the sight, I was astonished that it had survived that long even though there are obviously a great many books still with us that date back far further than that.

Later on that day I happened to be talking to one of the senior people at the same University Library and I was equally astonished when I was told that a very considerable number of data records that had been stored on those self-same optical discs that I had seen in Switzerland had now been completely lost to humanity. The surface layers of the discs had corroded and there were only about two optical disc-reading machines of that vintage left that still functioned properly and just a scattered few (and worryingly ancient) people, who could still remember how on earth these old machines worked.

I marvelled at how the information in book form from so long ago was still here with us when "electronically-held stuff" from just a few decades back had been irretrievably lost.

I completely revised my thinking that day about the lasting quality of books as a storage medium and the extreme fickleness of electronic formats!

Technology Just Gets Superseded Far Too Quickly

As the above example of the optical discs shows us, modern day technology gets superseded all too quickly, which means that the data (be that text, music, photos, videos, speech, "whatever") constantly have to be transferred from one "industry standard" technology to its successor "industry standard" technology.

If you don't do that, or choose the wrong technology to jump to, all can very easily be lost.

Books, once written and bound, don't require any of that "technology-proofing". They just need a little "TLC" (Tender Loving Care).

The Problem Of Not Knowing Other People's Passwords

The second point is that so much of what we produce now is passworded, either on our PCs, Apple Macs, smartphones or tablets, or up there "in the Cloud", and, when we "lose our marbles" or "pop our clogs", very few other people already have, or are able to gain access to, all this electronically-held information. We are always told to keep our passwords secret, and that is an instruction that almost all of us heed suprisingly well.

This means that huge amounts of electronic data, including all of our email, our posts to social media and our seemingly endless digital photos, are all liable to be "lost to humanity".

Maybe it would be no bad thing if a lot of it did disappear but ... we can all imagine the plaintive but still fruitless emails to companies and organisations that we know do hold our relatives' and/or friends' data and our complete cluelessness as to where other such information might be held "off our radar".

All those companies and organisations will inevitably end up saying, with barely concealed glee, "Computer says No!"

They will all rush to hide behind the Data Protection Act and refuse to give us even a hint of what they hold for a relative or dear friend. Like dogs in a manger, they will refuse us access whilst having no interest whatsoever in what they are withholding from us. Soon afterwards, all that data will then inevitably be "purged" (deleted) due to lack of payment or some other financial reason and, then again, all will be lost to us.

The Urge to Write Stuff Down Has Not Left Us Though

In the olden days, way before this age of almost "instant" phonecalls, emails and texting and posting online, people used to write in their journals and diaries and send one another frequent and often long and very interesting letters.

Some correspondences between family members and good friends went on for decades if not most of their lifetimes and many of these documents have survived right up to this day.

There was an inner richness to those lives that very often eludes us in the constant "rush, rush, rush" of our lives now.

Some people's propensity nowadays for non-stop posting to social media seems to know no bounds so it is certainly not as if we have completely lost the desire to "leave a written mark".

But all of that posting is very often very superficial and only of ephemeral rather than lasting value.

Books and well written-up photo-albums, however, enable you to get to the very heart of the matter and they will last.


Books Just Look, Feel, And Sometimes Even Smell, So Good!

C'mon!

Admit it!

We all know that there is something very special about holding a really well-made book in one's hands that, most importantly, has beautifully laid-out, colourful pages that fall and stay open really easily.

There comes a time when we've "had it up to here" with straining our eyes at yet another electronic monitor.

The nicer the look and the better the feel of a book, the more we want to take time off and just bury our noses in it!

So, if we are going to write a book, we most certainly want to encourage our readers to start and finish reading all that we have written, so let's take a look at what might be involved.



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