The Digital Minds conference in London took a philosophical bent, questioning is this “golden age for publishing or the end of the book?”
Copernicus, Ptolemy, Einstein, Wittgenstein and Willard Quine (don’t worry…he was a US philosopher and logician) were all name-checked in a presentation at yesterday’s Digital Minds that was as abstract as the speaker’s hair. Bill Thompson from the BBC Archives gave a philosophical masterclass on what we mean when we refer to a book and how the print and digital versions are very different animals, one passive, the other active.
“A [print] book sits there. It will contain the same words every time you open it. A book is outside the stream. Like a neutrino [sic: it was that sort of presentation], it rarely interacts with the world or interferes with the thoughts of even a single reader. This is its merit and its damnation…It is printed, dead, done with. Furniture.”
An ebook, he continued, is a file, “and because it’s just a file an ebook is never finished, an ebook is never cleanly separated from the rest of the flow of bits, an ebook is active, part of a wider ecosystem.”
Thompson thinks the industry needs to find a new paradigm because at the moment “publishers, agents and authors still act as if printed books are the center of the universe, and all other forms of publishing revolve around the printed, bound text.