I’m reading the book (on my iPad) What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly the co-founder of Wired Magazine. It’s an optimistic look at the nature of technology and our relationship to it. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in philosophical, historical, evolutionary look at technology. I can’t say that I agree with all his arguments, but I’m finding thought provoking passages on almost every page. This one from chapter 12 stood out in light of the current issues in the library world:
“We make prediction more difficult because our immediate tendency is to imagine the new thing doing an old job better. That’s why the first cars were called “horseless carriages.” The first movies were simply straightforward documentary films of theatrical plays. It took a while to realize the full dimensions of cinema photography as its own new medium that could achieve new things, reveal new perspectives, do new jobs. We are stuck in the same blindness. We imagine e-books today as being regular books that appear on electronic paper instead of radically powerful threads of text woven into one shared universal library.”
We gravitate to what we know and what we’re used to. An e-book is not a book on electronic paper. It is a completely new medium that will have myriad unanticipated effects, both positive and negative. I’m guessing “electronic paper” and “e-ink” are both going to sound a lot like “horseless carriage” in 20 years. Also the way we consume, share, and interact with e-books is going to be different than paper books. We are inventing the future right now through our action and inaction. We should be mindful of the past, but not so wrapped up in it that we aren’t able to see the future.