Google has a book search page now as part of its plan to take over the internet one niche at a time. Google has been scanning books to put online–the books are out of copyright–as one of several efforts to make resources more accessible (and take over the internet). This blog has started coming up for several books on that site which I find amusing and exciting.
The project has some people worrying about the fate of libraries, but I think that’s silly. The internet is never going to replace regular mail completely. It will never replace going to the movies. There is no reason to assume that the internet will replace libraries or books. These things are all very different and work better in tandem than any of them could work separately.
Similarly, there’s been a lot of buzzing in recent years about Satellite radio. It supposedly has better music quality and it doesn’t have commercials. Instead of dealing with commercials of varying levels of annoyance, you pay a monthly subscription fee for the right to listen to the satellite radio stations. Sirius has started advertising, presumably for the holiday rush, with a commercial showing a cassettes, 8 tracks, CDs and other forms of musical storage being knocked down like dominoes and landing at the feet of a their new device which is a handheld radio listener (that sounds ridiculous, what I mean is a device not meant for the car as their previous efforts have been). This commercial is very similar to a Verizon commercial for their Venus phone, but that’s another story.
The Sirius commercial seems to mark the beginning of a new era. But I remain skeptical. Some things it makes sense to pay for: books, CDs or music files, DVDs. It doesn’t make sense to pay for the radio–an inherently ephemeral medium. When a song is over on the radio, it’s gone. You cannot hold on to it. You cannot possess it. There is no lasting way to own the radio, it’s all just temporary. Why bother to pay for something you can’t even keep forever?
(Along these lines, of course, it also makes no sense to pay for TV. Unfortunately, TV companies made that impossible by promoting cable and satellite service and not maintaining strong signals for people who used antennas to watch “regular” TV without cable or satellite services. One day that might happen with radio as well, but not today.)
Along those lines, I can’t see books ever going out of style. Reading a book claims it. Each turn of a page, to me, implies ownership. Even if the book is not yours forever, it is yours while you are reading it. You possess it in a way that you cannot possess a ebook. Scrolling through a file will never be the same as turning a page. It will never assert ownership in the same way. You work through a book by reading along a page and moving on. You scroll through an ebook by moving the text as you go. Books will always have a place in the world because people like knowledge they can hold on to, something they can claim. You can’t claim an object if you can’t even hold it.