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The future of no future

There’s a semi-viral video that’s been kicking around for a couple of weeks titled “The Future of Publishing.” The schtick is that the same column of text, about preferences of younger readers gets read two ways — descend and you get a sharply pessimistic, anti-book message, but if you roll the text back and read it on the ascent (get it?), it turns out that the kids love traditional books after all.

It’s the sort of thing I’d usually link to here, but I was embarassed for two reasons:

  1. It’s the sort of thing most of you (being who you are) had probably already seen elsewhere;
  2. I thought it was pretty silly. The contrast between the two POVs (let’s call them the young devil and the young angel) is so overbearing, it’s like a fight between two straw robots. Not every young person wishes books would die, and some young people still like books. Okay — and… It’s trivially true, without being truthful.

I’m finally linking to it, because Bob Stein has helped me name what it is: “a dream piece constructed to reassure middle-aged intellectuals that the seismic shifts which are upending life as we know it are not really happening.” calls it “The viral video the publishing industry wants to believe.” It’s a feel-good fantasy cooked up for a sales conference, and you can’t even say that “the truth of the future of book reading is somewhere in between,” because there’s almost nothing that resembes the future of reading in the first take, and nothing that resembles the future of books in the second.

They’re two different versions of the bookservative fantasy: a dystopia and utopia that need each other to know what the other one looks like. And say what you will about the dystopian point-of-view (and I could and have said a lot), at least it is a version of the future. The utopia winds up being no future at all. It’s just a nowhere.

Cross-posted at Bookfuturism.

April 1, 2010 / Uncategorized


Sorry, I got distracted by a funny picture on Facebook and clicked off the video halfway through. Did I miss anything?

I was hoping for a fight between actual robots. How sad to discover that these were just straw robots.

You (and Bob Stein) put your finger on what disturbed me about that video. It was well done, but they were both definitely straw man (or straw robot) arguments.

More so it isn’t original:

From two years ago….

Yeah, “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed does the same thing. It’s clever enough in a palindromic way, but ultimately this is just argument by assertion.

Oh, and “content is more important than packaging” wasn’t true when it was about book covers and paper stock, and it’s not true when it’s about Kindles and iPads. There’s so much great stuff out there that we have to make shorthand judgments based on packaging… no way around it.

It’s a false pretense from the start. Books themselves are not endangered. The printed versions may be, but not the concept of a book. Stories will always be told, though not bound by paper alone (hello iPad). The video is manipulative and disingenuous by people trying to stop time.

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