Print media, books/magazines/newspapers, have ruled the roost for over 500 years. For good reason. However, the time has come when Gutenberg must move over and new forms of media are beginning to take over and do things that only print used to.
I must admit, before going any further, I’m torn. I’m a bibliophile and in love with the texture of a book. I love getting up in the morning and thinking happily like Hegel, “how happy it is to greet the newspaper and see what’s new in the world”. So I’m ripped apart by the conclusion that in all areas where it matters, the book is lagging.
I say this amid record book sales and an on the face of it, publishing renaissance. I have to say, I think this is a last gasp, a nostalgic last gasp at the straw of human imagination and desire.
First to look at these two things, we should start with some simple definition.
Print media: no electricity needed to access/read (unless you count having to turn on the light)
Electronic media: all forms of media that you plug in to some source of electricity. If you are in the middle of the Kalahari – your Mac is a rotten apple.
Let’s judge the book and electronic media by some objective criteria. Let’s see which is winning.
Media should both be easily producible (first artifact) and easily reproducible (subsequent artifacts). On both counts, we can say that electronic media is much stronger in this area, especially in terms of reproduction. Both entail large investments in terms of effort and expertise, in production. But reproducibility is won by electronic media that can be copied ad infinitum with a click of a mouse. However, one caveat. Although we assume to think that the production costs are higher for print media, when we look at the environmental costs, recent studies have shown print media (contrary to popular conception) to have a lower ecological footprint.
Media should have an “it” factor. People want it, love it, identify with it. I call this popularity – nobility. We want to use what is popular, fashionable, in vogue. Our choices of media are often decided by nobility. I have to give a slight edge to electronic media – how the ipad, ereaders, are indeed seen as “it”. There is still room for the book to make a comeback here….
Media must be portable. You can travel with it, take it with you and drop it or get caught in the rain with it. The book still rules here. Electronic media is making inroads but we still await an implant that will give us instant access through thought – to information. I’ve pulled a few books out of the bath and they’ve survived. I can’t say the same about my old kindle or memory sticks.
Media must be sharable. It is this which breathes life into it. I have to call this 50/50. Books are sharable because they are so “objectified” and “there”. It is still hard for us to think of sharing something that is so abstract as electronic media. But it is making inroads – our minds are malleable and changing. The whole paradigm is changing.
Media should be something that makes it easy for us to “enter”, enter into the information and let it wrestle with our consciousness. Traditional print media has a big head start with this, we are all trained to concentrate and “endure the tyranny of the voice of the book”. Electronic media leads us to a short attention span, it lacks a capacity to grab us. We’ll stick with a book for hours in bed or on a flight – not so with electronic media. I give books a small advantage here….
How long will the media last? What of generations to come, will they be able in a thousand years, kick start a Kindle and know what is there? What about books, how long will they last? The major problem here is not just physical durability but also how the media may be accessed in years to come. Will people still read? Will the odt format be able to be decoded? Books will last 700-800 years. They have no barriers to access over time (so far). Thus, they do have more durability than electronics. This is an important consideration, we haven’t thought enough about….
Media should be both sharable and alterable. Can it be remixed, reinterpreted. Not just reproduced but reproduced in a differening form. Can the media enable creativity and the organic growth of the information it contains? Electronic media would seem to be vastly superior here. Instantly, alter, change, resequence. It’s easy, its transforming and society wins through this more adaptable media type.
Media should offer the motivation of money. Without this, it is easy to see how information would not be so widely distributed and available. On the face of it, print would seem to win but I must give the nod to electronic media. Any media that can so easily be reproduced and shared must after significant disruption, lead to a very profitable market and end game.
So there you have it, let’s add up the numbers.
Print media: Portability, Penetrability, Durability
Electronic Media: (Re)Producibility, Nobility, Alterability, Profitability
So I have to give the present and future to electronic media. Move over Gutenberg, hello Karl Braun!