Thursday, October 1, 2009

And It’s Not Just Eliot and James

I can’t resist adding the following, taken from the Detroit News, also datelined October 1. This quote comes from the paper’s Auto section.

Now the owner’s manual—the often forgotten paperbound bible stowed in your globe box—is on the way out. Once an elaborate art form in print—described by some as the least-read annual best-seller—it is the latest to go digital in the electronic age.
David Phillips, “Owner’s manuals on verge of extinction”
This article caught Brigitte’s eye after reading my first post for this day, and she flagged it for me to digest. Digest it I did. What it says to me is roughly the following:

It costs much, much less to inventory symbolic creations on an electronic surface than it costs to put it on paper, to bind the pages firmly together, and then to get the object to its intended user on wheels. Much developmental and marketing effort is now flowing into persuading the public to “consume” such things in electronic format. To create a portable equivalent to the book, we have Kindle, Bebook, Plastic Logic, and others. And to entice an i-podded new audience to use such devices, the industry is trying to add sweeteners (image, motion, and music)—which are also much cheaper to deliver as electromagnetic vibrations through the air or over wire.

What’s really going on here is not due to a loss of time because, somehow, we’re that much more busy. I would bet that today exactly the same proportion of humanity reads the likes of Eliot and James as did in Eliot’s and James’ time in the nineteenth century. Back in the 1950s, when I was first reading such people, I was part of a tiny minority. Back in the nineteenth century? When these two authors labored, ditto. The masses have never read Eliot and James, nor shall the masses of the future read the likes of Eliot and James.

People in the past lived in physically less developed environments and had to devote extra time to chores of ordinary living. We live in crowded times (the population has soared everywhere), and we therefore waste time commuting and struggling with communications overload. Same old, same old—time’s always precious, then as now. What is really underway at present is a transition between modes of delivering symbolic products to ultimate consumers. I am myself directly engaged in trying to adapt to this—as I’ll detail in future postings. And so are the auto makers, alas.

All of us, trying to reach our audience, have the same problem.

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