Other people have dissected Kevin Kelley's Scan This Book! article from the NYT much more effectively than I ever could, but I still wanted to jot down some random thoughts and quotes I lifted from the article. If you still haven't read it, I think you should.
Here are some of the quotes/figures I found really interesting:
- "From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages." -- I was honestly surprised that there have been more books published than songs! He doesn't say where those figures come from, so I don't know if that means recorded songs or songs printed on sheet music since they started that gig, but still, it takes a lot longer to publish a book than it does a song, so that surprised me.
- "Superstar, an entrepreneurial company based in Beijing, has scanned every book from 900 university libraries in China. It has already digitized 1.3 million unique titles in Chinese, which it estimates is about half of all the books published in the Chinese language since 1949." -- We're always so focused on North America over here, and I don't read blogs in Chinese. I know that France and the EU are discussing digitization projects, but now that I read it, it comes as no surprise that the Chinese would be working on this too.
- "The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages." -- Coooool, I think...
- "At the same time, once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves. Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums, the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual "bookshelves" — a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf's worth of specialized information. And as with music playlists, once created, these "bookshelves" will be published and swapped in the public commons. Indeed, some authors will begin to write books to be read as snippets or to be remixed as pages." -- OMG - can you imagine trying to teach someone how to search for information in this type of environment?!? Out the window with the old "this is what you'll find in a peer-reviewed publication, and this is why you'd want to search for a book on your topic...
- And an interesting analogy when considering the publisher's lawsuit against Google, Kevin points out that, "In science, there is a natural duty to make what is known searchable. No one argues that scientists should be paid when someone finds or duplicates their results. Instead, we have devised other ways to compensate them for their vital work. They are rewarded for the degree that their work is cited, shared, linked and connected in their publications, which they do not own. They are financed with extremely short-term (20-year) patent monopolies for their ideas, short enough to truly inspire them to invent more, sooner. To a large degree, they make their living by giving away copies of their intellectual property in one fashion or another." -- it's not a perfect solution to replace today's monetary publising system, but it was an interesting point to me...
And the one big glaring thing to me that's not discussed in the article, and is only touched upon in the if:book comments, is the difference between fiction and nonfiction. All this search stuff is great if you're searching for some information. But what if you just want to read a story?
I asked author Simon Ings what he thought of the article, and he pointed out that "treating all books exactly the same makes perfect sense for Google, but no sense at all for a publisher." He goes on to say, "To reduce fiction to a kind of topical gameplay (reading 'Weight' [his latest book] because it contains the search term 'Mozambique', for example (we won't get into the number of websites now that have me listed under 'Weight loss') is one way of selecting what to read... But it is no replacement for the development of personal taste."
Hmm, but what if we can reduce texts to the genomic level, ala Pandora and the Music Genome Project? Now that wold be a good book-recommendation system! A lot tougher to do, but why not someday? Right now I still want to read in paper, but once digital paper really works, who knows? But right now, Kevin's future of searchable books just isn't going to work for the upcoming summer reading season.