[Viewpoint]Books more durable than some think

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[Viewpoint]Books more durable than some think

Many different industries are suffering from shrinking consumption due to the economic downturn, and the publishing industry, especially, is in a more serious situation than others.

In these lean times readers are cutting back on cultural expenses first of all and are thus not purchasing as many books as they used to.

Some people consider the crisis of the publishing industry stems fundamentally from the “book crisis.”

With wide distribution of cutting-edge information devices such as PDAs, PMPs and smart phones, some say the publishing industry is literary in a transition stage where the old medium of books is gradually disappearing.

Is the future of books really that bleak?

Isaac Asimov, in his predictions of future society, had once described a great information device of the future. “It is so easy to use that even 4-year-olds can easily learn how to use the device, and people can view the information they want in an instant by using an index. On top of that, it hardly gets out of order, and even if it does, it can easily be fixed. It is resistant to high temperatures and shock, so you do not have to be particularly cautious about where you keep it. What is especially attractive is that there is no need for power supply and that it has a semi-permanent life span,” he said.

This device is called a book. Asimov paradoxically claimed that the future of books was not bleak at all because the advantages of books could not easily be substituted.

The advantages that digital information devices that use the latest technology have over books are their extensive information capacity and networked functions.

Videos and hypertext searches greatly improve the quantity and the quality of information, and immediate information updates are possible through real-time communication with other media.

However, you will find that such digital devices do not have the same emotional appeal as books.

Thousands, even tens of thousands of books can be stored in a small memory stick. However, we do not really need such an enormous amount of text unless we are searching for some particular material. Nor can we digest all the information at once, either.

It is also difficult to quietly concentrate on reading if you are always connected to the outside world through a network.

The typical concept of reading - in other words, concentrating on a story without any interruption - is from an analog world that is far removed from the cutting-edge digital environment.

Some claim that the video media will soon become the mainstream in the future, overtaking the print media. With the development of computer graphics, we can now visualize almost anything people can imagine.

The fantasy films that are continuously pouring out onto the market are evidence of this. However, video limits the imagination of people more than the print media.

Through text, we must be more creative with our imagination. But if we are given something that is already visualized, our range of imagination gets that much narrower.

People who watch video become much more passive and receptive consumers than people who read print media.

When facts are needed, as in news or academic fields, video media will be, of course, much more useful. But the importance of print in human culture, especially in literature, is imperative.

In the end, books do not provide a huge amount of information, have no network function and cannot even show videos. However, they are still very useful information devices for us.

If the future of such a useful device, the book, is ever threatened, it would be when books are directly put inside our brains.

When highly developed nano technology combines with neurophysiology, the words of books will go straight into people’s heads, because it will be possible to implant memory chips in the human brain.

However, the day when something like this is actually possible is a long way off in the future.

There is also controversy over the ethics of implanting memory chips in the human brain. As it will cost a not so small amount of money, it will need even more time than we think to find a fair method before we can proceed with this technology.

In this respect, it seems that books will have a much longer lifespan as information devices than we think.

*The writer is the president of Omelas, a publishing company. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sang-joon
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