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There Will Always Be Books
by Ronald Bruce Meyer
first published in "Seeds & Stems"
--a publication of the Maryland Apple Corps, Inc.--


I'm not one of those who looks forward to the day when any book can be had for the reading on a home computer. The principal reason, I believe, is that it won't happen. How do I know this? This may be heretical for a high-power hacker like me to say, but computers are simply not a technology for the masses. Books are and always will be.

Books are more personal and more human than computers, no matter how "user-friendly" computers claim to be. Books require, at most, a comfortable chair-- or a place to sit on the train, or a shady spot at the beach, or a seatback on the plane -- and some good light; computers require sitting erect and staring at a screen that assaults your retina with radiation. And if you're blind, you can even do without the light. The learning curve for computers is pretty steep; that for books is no more challenging than knowing how to read. Computers need power and software, a tabletop and probably a telephone line and network connection as well. Even portable computers are really not "beach-friendly." Books? The only software you need is between your ears.

I've never accessed a computer standing up in a subway, or in the waiting room of a doctor's office, or on the treadmill at the gym, or sunning myself by the pool, or in the bathtub, or (how shall I say this tastefully?) answering the call of nature. And I've also never had someone special inscribe a note to me inside the cover of a gift computer. All the special conditions necessary for even the most basic computer put humans at the mercy of the technology. And any technology that puts humankind in its service, rather than serving humankind, is not going to survive for long.

Technology must solve problems for humanity, not create problems. And that doesn't begin to address the question of cost. Computers are not cheap. Costs being what they are, and high tech being what it is, I predict that the demise of the print book is not at hand. Nor will it ever be. Books will always be cheaper, more durable, more versatile, and more personal than electronic texts. Even if copyright problems are solved, there isn't enough money in existence to make electronic texts generally available on the same scale with paper and ink.

The chief virtue of computers and e-text is their ability to fit large amounts of very current information, with great rapidity, into a small space. Books can't compete with that capability. But books don't need to. Speaking as one who has used a computer for about 20 years (and who has narrated over 100 books onto cassette tape), I believe books and print still have a relevant place in society. I distributed this commentary via e-mail, but I had to proofread it on paper to be sure it was right. I can't snuggle up to a spinning hard drive. I prefer the feel of a book.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.