I have received a batch of emails related to the paper book as an artifact of past glory in paper publishing over the holiday weekend. One of the rather more prominent members of the group contributing to the thread involved called books in paper form a fetish. I was, in fact, quite amused by much of the content of that thread. The future is seldom what we expect it to be.
Paper publishing is obviously being altered and even threatened by digital publishing. Of course every form of information will be altered or replaced by newer, more complex digital forms over time. The key qualifier here is, “Over time,”; and the key question in the thread is how long will this replacement process take in the case of the written word presented in book form?
The continued use of paper is clearly more expensive in many cases than the simple act of moving a digital file from one place to another. It is also clear that many more forms of digital information can be included in publications that enjoy the flexibility of digital publishing over paper. Still and all old habits die hard. I still have several newspapers delivered to my driveway even as I use the Internet to read several more each day.
How fast will all of the replacement of paper take place and how soon will I be forced to do without my many pages of birdcage liners that grace my weekly recycling contribution? I am reading about the future as I have done most of my adult life. In the future virtual reality will eventually take over the process of transferring complete information about any life experience.
Technology in terms of the presentation of information is clearly expanding our options. I wonder if any of the people contributing to that thread really understand exponential growth in technology and what it means to all of us. The capacity of single computers will exceed the capacity of the human brain somewhere in the next two decades if Ray Kurzweil is to be believed.
From that point to the point in time where exponential growth in data transfer technology and computing capacity lead to human minds with millions of times the capacity for data transfer and data manipulation of the current human mind is short indeed. I suspect that most of the people contributing to that thread can no more comprehend a world where living thousands of virtual lives in one short period of time will be a common experience than can I.
The time devoted to reading one book might instead be devoted to experiencing the lives of all of the characters in a lifeline presentation series in that world. Of course this idea presupposes that someone could be bothered to produce such a presentation in a world where the computers are the majority of the conscious minds around.
Exponential growth in computing power and data transfer capabilities dictates that such a world will be upon us before the next generation grapples with its somewhat diminished mortality. If, as Ray suspects, we are mere decades from downloading human consciousness into those immensely expanded computers mortality itself will be drastically altered if not eliminated.
So I find myself amused by the parochial nature of the discussion in that thread. It is not only the art of the book or the written word that is under duress here. It is more appropriate to consider what will happen to the art of experiencing life itself and how that will be transferred in such a world as will exist before this century is half over.
We do live in interesting times don’t we?