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Don't Believe the Cyberhype



Don't Believe the Cyberhype
Editorial, New York Times
August 21, 1994

This summer, in the shade of an oak tree, near a cabin in the woods, a New
York bibliophile consumed nearly a dozen novels--some enthralling, some
snoresome, a few downright annoying.

The most aggravating among them provoked strong language and, occasionally,
physical assault, with books hurled against the tree.  Therein lies the 100th
reason why expensive, computer-based books will never replace $10 paperbacks,
or even $25 hard-covers. No computer could survive a high- velocity collision
with the trunk of a tree.

As an invention, the book is close to perfect: cheap, durable, portable and
complete unto itself.  Consider also the aesthetics of ink and beautiful
typefaces on paper.  It was clear from the start that few would want to curl
up on the couch with a green computer screen.

Still, for nearly a decade now, computer jockeys and software writers have
been trumpeting "the end of the book" and the triumph of computers enhanced by
devices that permit the "reader" to as the book questions or jump
electronically from one book to another.  Computer jockeys flock to the stuff.
And CD-ROM encyclopedias are flourishing.  But the prediction that computer-
based books would make the ink-and-paper variety superfluous now seems a case
of computer fetishism and software hubris.

Look around you on the beach this Labor Day.  See also the September issue of
The Atlantic Monthly, featuring a piece that asks, "The End of the Book?"  It
contemptuously dismisses as "vapor-ware" revolutionary products that never
actually appear on the shelves despite breathless advance publicity.  As the
novelist John Updike tells D.T. Max: "It seems to me the book has not just
aesthetic values--the charming little clothy of the thing, the smell of the
glue, even the print, which has its own beauty.  But there's something about
the sensation of ink on paper that is in some sense a thing, a phenomenon....
Words on the screen give me the sense of being just another passing electronic
wiggle."

Certainly the art of reading has lost ground against the onslaught of video.
But rumors about the death of the book are greatly exaggerated.


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