Sunday, December 06, 2009

Is the Book Dead?

Is the Book Dead?
High Tech and the Written Word

Moderated By Alan Kaufman
Oscar Villalon
Daniel Handler
Brenda Knight
John Mcmurtrie
Annalee Newitz
Scott Rosenberg

Mechanics' Institute Library
Thur 3 Dec 2009 6:30pm

Following the members' meeting at the Mechanics' Institute on Thursday evening, Alan Kaufman led a panel discussion about the future of the book. This panel was similar to a previous one I attended at Books Inc. but with a better mix of speakers. When Mr. Kaufman mentioned Nazis & the Holocaust in his opening remarks, I was afraid that we were in trouble. Fortunately the panelists were less paranoid & were in fact often puzzled by Mr. Kaufman's remarks, such as his suggestion for an international body to enforce ethical behavior from the high tech industry.

A fear of technology dominated the discussion. This obscured what I think should have been the real topic. Scott Rosenberg came closest to stating it when he observed that the Internet threatens industries based on the scarcity of information or on the control of access to information. As the Web removes these barriers, what happens to writers' & publishers' economic incentives? No one seemed to have any special insights here.

I enjoyed Daniel Handler, who is a bit of a performer & whom I had never seen before. He told us how trying to read William Vollmann's 1300 page Imperial on Muni made a good case for the electronic book. I loved Annalee Newitz's story of using a Kaypro back in the 1980s to connect with other book lovers on-line. She also told us about Noisebridge, which she described as a high-tech version of the Mechanics' Institute.

The Mechanics' Institute members, as one would expect, are a well-informed crowd, though their questions sometimes got off-topic. Next time I will arrive earlier. They knew no shame when it came to the food table.

No comments: