20 December 2009

Dead-Tree Books

I had hoped to write something about animal language again here, and about how a certain philosophical way of thinking about animal language can help us negotiate our way, in the contemplation of our own verbal behavior, between the upper dogmatism of a Chomskyan rationalism and the lower dogmatism of a Skinnerian positivism. But anything worthwhile along those lines would take more time and effort than I'm prepared to put into it right now, so I'll beg off with a simple observation about the (not entirely unrelated) question of the publication of books.

How long will the dead-tree book publishing industry last, in the face of Amazon's Kindle and other forms of digital competition?

For a sober discussion of the issue go here. But for a more amusing take, I prefer blogger Jeff Matthews.

His point? Try to think of it as if it were a new idea and consider how insane it would sound. If everyone was using digital screens to read, and accustomed to it, then the idea of creating tree farms (or deforesting continents so we need to rely on tree farms) so that we can produce pulp with expensive machinery so that we can spray ink onto tiny slices of pulp known as "paper" so that we can then market ideas and stories years after they were first conceived, hoping that they have remained topical in the interim ... all this would seem insane.

Yet it doesn't seem insane, because human beings are creatures of habit. We love our dead-tree books like some of us love our old vinyl records, and the transition to the newer ways of reading will take some time.

Ah, and that new book smell. Like the new-car smell, it has its addicts. And the flying buttresses of Gothic architecture offer a ready example of how an arrangement at first adopted for reasons of utility can come to seem valuable in itself, to be beautiful, even when there are other ways of keeping the walls up.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.