Thursday, June 17, 2010

The History of Print (Though Our Book Group's Eyes)

My wife and I belong to a book group composed of five very likeable and smart couples.  We launched in May 2001 and are now reading our 68th book, Tinkers.  The hosting couple chooses the book and will sometimes serve food and drink that match the story. 

In light of the radical changes in publishing, I was pondering the other day the various ways our group has “accessed” the books we have “read” over the years.  A quick list would include:

  1. Borrow book from library
  2. Buy new book from store
  3. Buy used book from store/yard sale
  4. Buy new book on-line
  5. Buy used book on-line
  6. Listen to book on tape
  7. Listen to book on CD
  8. Listen to digitally downloaded book (or creepy voice on Kindle)
  9. Read book on PC
  10. Read book on Kindle
  11. Read book on iPhone
  12. Read book on iPad
  13. Watch movie adaptation
  14. Watch heartwarming Hallmark adaptation
  15. Watch inscrutable YouTube version
  16. Read book on Sparknotes (oops)
  17. Don’t read book (at all, but fake it by saying "the use of color and texture throughout was appealing")
I probably missed one or two, but if you count just “platforms,” that’s a paper book, tape, CD, epaper, digital audio, and digital print.  So, for a bunch of 50-somethings who grew up with nothing but the printed word, that’s pretty good technological adaptation, no?

I might add, at the end of every book group the hardest thing we five couples do is try to pick a new date when nobody is traveling, nobody has family commitments, and everyone has time to read the selection.  In 2001, most of us would have taken out our Daytimers, or looked at the big paper family calendar hanging in the kitchen.  Now, our date technology has evolved as rapidy as our book technology--though science has yet to improve our ability to actually find the next date.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Binding Innovation: Sewing Machines and Social Networking

The Americans: The Democratic Experience by Daniel Boorstin is full of compelling stories about the formation of America, and especially good in spotting unconventional entrepreneurs.

Boorstin, who died in 2004, was a lawyer, a professor at the University of Chicago for 25 years, the librarian of Congress, the senior historian of the Smithsonian—the list goes on.  But what is most impressive is that Boorstin never, ever stopped writing, including dozens of books and two major trilogies (of which The Democratic Experience is part, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning part at that).

When Boorstin went before the Senate to be confirmed as librarian of Congress, several senators demanded that he not write while serving in the post.  He refused, but promised to do it on his personal time: weekends, evenings, and from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning.