The future of books

Print More

(HOST) Call him a literary Luddite, but commentator Bill Seamans doesn’t like what he’s been reading about the future of books.

(SEAMANS) How would you like to go through college without cracking a book? Now we know that certain exceptional athletes travel that bookless academic journey, but they may not be the exception in the cyber world of the future.

I’m truly troubled by those among us who are making predictions that have overwhelmed this former carrel dweller with shock and awe. They see a future without books – that is, books as we know them. That possibility, or shall I say probability, caught my special attention the other day when it was reported that the prestigious University of Texas is removing the 90,000 books in the undergraduate library to shelves elsewhere.

The U of Texas library will be transformed into an electronic study center offering books online, which The New York Times says is a fast-spreading phenomenon transforming research and study on campuses around the country. The Texas version calls for software suites – I guess you could call them super-carrels – with computers where students can work and presumably enhance their social lives at all hours.

And a historian told The New Republic magazine that the world of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences is being astonish- ingly transformed by the new information technology. He said most scholars now have at their fingertips worldwide information sources that they once could find only in a handful of major research institutions.

So it looks like scholarship is moving toward a bookless future. Physical books are expensive to produce and need costly shelf space that must be maintained and insured. All this expense could be eliminated by using electronic books – a savings that more and more universities are looking at. But defenders of the physical book ask what will replace that inimitable dusty scent when cracking a book in the library stacks: the paper, typeface and binding and the chance to learn the knowledge therein – for many, an unforgettable personal experience.

But the futurists already are calling the book as we know it an icon of an era that will pass into history. We are told that new generations will know only microchip cyber knowledge. They will be comfortable reading their books off a computer screen because they will never have savored that very personal tactile connection with knowledge that is available only in the book stacks.

I’m afraid that we old-fashioned bookworms are losing out. And I foresee, some millennia in the future, archeologists digging down and finding some ancient artifacts, and after years of research, they will determine that they have found remnants of some things that long ago were called “books”.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

Comments are closed.