Permanence and (Instant) Gratification

What I like most about books – printed books – is their permanence.

No matter how long it’s been, I can always return to them and they are in exactly the same form as when last I visited.

Now, when it comes to that encyclopedia set my parents had in the house, circa 1960, those printed texts have lost a certain, uh, currency.

But they’re still there. Well, maybe not in New Jersey. And, if nothing else, a historical record of what was at a point in time.

And, as long as I’m able to read (both eyesight and literacy required), I can access what’s printed in those books.

In contrast, much of the digital world seems either intended to be or consumed as very much at-the-moment or of-the-moment.

That’s not to say that digital works have only such merit. But creating them with the notion of a certain disposability and short shelf life, and reading them with the same mind-set makes them different from print on paper.

One is reminded of early environmentalists, way back in the 70s, who offered claims about the polluting power of print: throw a copy of the “Times” in the landfill, they said, return in a hundred years and you could dig it up and still be able to read it!


At the college I work at (RIT), we used to require that our majors submit both a printed and a digital version of their senior theses.

To this day, on file with the department staff assistant, there exist floppy disks and square diskettes for which there are no longer “players.”

Digital may be a better medium than print for the dissemination and preservation of civilization’s knowledge. But, currently, we don’t know that.

Check back in 500 years.

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