Reading about Electronic Books on Paper

Mitch Ratcliffe posted a status analysis on eBooks – The first step of a long change on his ZD Net column. I read most of it immediately after I received Mitch’s email with the URL in the afternoon. We have been talking about eBooks longer than most people know they exist, so I owe him a response. I read the first seven comments on the ZD Net blog and started to ponder on the medium / technology / platform question as well as the longlevity of the printed word, commented on by a certain Yagotta B. Kidding (nomen est omen). Books had their long-term and short-term survival problems, mostly from fire and acid in the paper. Many books from the “modern phase” of the 70s when the IBM Selectric together with Copiers became the publishing technology of choice together with most of the stuff created on laser printers will be gone within 100 years. The glue that keeps the carbon particles of the Xerographic process on the paper lets go and the content falls off the page.

Torah Scroll

Torah Scroll

Maybe eBooks are not books in a similar way Scrolls are not books as we know them today. Scrolls were abandoned over 1000 years ago as they were not practical to use and paper was hard to produce in long rolls. Also page consistency – the fact that a certain word is always on the same page to be read and remembered [add a reference to the ars memorativa here] – was not part of scrolls. Now we’re back to scrolling, soft scrolling, fast scrolling and computer mice with one or more scroll wheels with click-wheel capabilities. Scolls have their place, today mostly in Schul, the Jewish Synagoge, as Sefer Torah, a copy of the Five Books of Moses created under extremely strict rules and written by hand.

eBooks have to repeat the same steps handwritten and printed books had to go through and get out of the early stage of scrolls. In 1989 when we started to work on the Expanded Books Project, page consitency as well as a means to help the reader understand where she is in the book were essential elements, They are still disregarded in today’s eBook attempts.

With no way to take notes on the Web site and mark up passages, I gave in and printed Mitch’s text to fully digest and respond.

Come back and read the next installment in the next few days. And definitely read Mitch’s text.

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