The Sky Is Falling, Long Live The Sky

May 9th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

We know, we know. We said we were bored with the death of the book stories. No more, we swore. That’s so 2004. But that was before the Europeans started thinking about this book digitization thing that captivated us a few months ago. Turns out they’ve been studying the fine print while the rest of us have moved on. Probably there’s a life lesson there, but we can’t see it.

Robert McCrum starts by quote Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury, a born worrier if his words are anything to go by:

According to Newton, professionally cautious, mass digitisation is not a ‘marketing opportunity’. Rather, he suggests that within a generation ‘it may result in no sales’, the publishing equivalent of Armageddon. Collaborate with this ‘Napsterisation’ process, he told the Publishers Association, and the book industry risked ‘undermining the cultural and intellectual tradition of the past 600 years’.

Hold on, says the unflappable McCrum. Let’s take a deep breath here. Fear is not your friend; fear is what causes heart attacks. Let’s just sit back and think about what this really means. Let’s look at digitization as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

Delivery systems evolve. Instead of whingeing about Google, we could celebrate the extraordinary technology that will bring a cornucopia of hitherto inaccessible material before a bigger international audience than ever before.

Whingeing, we believe, is akin to the more common act of whining. Which brings us to yet another worry on the digitization front: the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon worldview (which we sincerely hope leads to the removal of extraneous “u’s” from words like color). Oh sure, we already thought that was a given, but it turns out there are cultures who are fiercely protecting their heritage, and no way is Google going to undermine that.

Yes, the great European anti-Google project continues to gather steam. It’s not such a bad idea, as we all learned this past weekend. When Google went down for a fifteen or so minute nap, the world was faced with a horrifying question: if there is no Google, how do you figure out how to solve the problem of there being no Google*?

Failing to digitalize — declared the heads of state in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and Hungary in an appeal to the European Union — is to risk that “this heritage could, tomorrow, not fill its just place in the future geography of knowledge.”

. . .

“There is increasing concern, I think, that something not registered on the Net will not be seen as existing,” Hungarian Culture Minister Andras Bozoki said in an interview during a European culture forum this week in Paris. A European project would provide a “voice” for smaller countries and their literature, he added.

Nevermind that all that great culture is buried in dusty stacks and often lost to the public forever (delicate old works simply cannot be trusted to the mass consumer). Given the way Google gives away gigabytes of free storage to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who happens to open an email account, we’re thinking maybe the pick and choose aspect of the project may be overstated. There might even be enough space for everyone, given time. But sure, we say, go ahead and reinvent the wheel. The last time it happened, we ended up with rubber and inner tubes.

* – Not an exact quote. If you’re fascinated, we’re sure the archives of Slashdot are filled with variations of the question and suitable solutions.

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