Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Dark Matter of the Information Universe

Fascinating stuff from Steven Johnson via Tim O'Reilly's Twitter feed on the - momentarily - dark matter that is the humble, beautiful and honourable book:
In our always-connected, everything-linked world, we sometimes forget that books are the dark matter of the information universe. While we now possess terabytes of data at our fingertips, we have nonetheless drifted further and further away from mankind's most valuable archive of knowledge: the tens of millions of books that have been published since Gutenberg's day.

That's because the modern infosphere is both organized and navigated through hyperlinked pages of digital text, with the most-linked pages rising to the top of Google Inc.'s all-powerful search-results page. This has led us toward some traditional forms of information, such as newspapers and magazines, as well as toward new forms, such as blogs and Wikipedia. But because books have largely been excluded from Google's index -- distant planets of unlinked analog text -- that vast trove of knowledge can't compete with its hyperlinked rivals.
Until now:
But there is good reason to believe that this strange imbalance will prove to be a momentary blip, and that the blip's moment may be just about over. Credit goes to two key developments: the breakthrough success of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader, and the maturation of the Google Book Search service, which now offers close to 10 million titles, including many obscure and out-of-print works that Google has scanned. As a result, 2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible.
I've always felt that reading has had a viable future ever since the Internet sprang its many and virtuous surprises on us. Our children probably read more than we ever did - they just don't read traditional books. What is your definition of a book? A coherent and cogent accumulation of thought on a theme or series of themes of major interest? There are many websites which do just that.

We've been reading more books than ever over the past decade - it's just that their nature has changed radically, as have our strategies for absorbing the information they contain.

You could even argue that the most important art form of the 20th century, the motion picture film, is a latterday example of the Dead Sea scrolls. DVDs no longer maintain the physical link but the old VHS videos clearly mimicked the size and weight of the traditional paperback.

Coherent and cogent information.

It's in good hands.

The dot com universe is finally going to come up trumps. Even as physical newspapers and printed paper lose their hold over us, the instantaneous ability of the Internet to distribute our content from anywhere to anywhere will renew our intellectual spaces. Publishing, if it is anything, is that curious marriage of hard-headed business nous and pure emotional pleasure. If you don't get your distribution channels sorted, you'll never get to enjoy anything.

Really not long to wait now.

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