Yes, me again. While I'm dismantling my last computer (waiting for things to copy/trash), I'm gathering my thoughts over the next few weeks for the talk I'm giving about 'The Limits of the Book' in Mackay at Focus on Books V. Bear with me: I've had the pancakes, so I'm not too tired yet, but the braincells are still a bit shattered by my early morning.
Ostensibly my paper starts as a run-down of the BSANZ conference I attended last year in Brisbane by the same name. I thought it would be useful to report that the scholars and the book artists are debating the same issues: what is a book, does it have limits, what is the future of the book, and does taking it online change everything?
At the Mackay conference, there is a space at the end of the conference where people get to stand up and do a little update about what they've been up to or what's been happening around the traps. Last conference I did one of those, and I sort of expected to be in the same timeslot, not being a major player (or so I thought) and not having a very big topic, just a conference report-back kinda-thing.
But OMFCC,* they've given me a 45-minute slot right smack in the centre of proceedings. I figure this gives me a chance to bang on a bit about books and what I think about them.
But first I have to really crystallise what I do think. Because I change my mind, quite a lot. In a nutshell, I think that books will survive anything the internet can throw at them. I think that books are physical objects that can't be taken on-line because then they become text. I think there is a substantial difference between books and information, which is what the internet presents to us. And I think that there are booky things on the internet, but we should all start working out new names for them, to be imaginative about new terms for new things. I like the way Kindle doesn't pretend to be anything but a Kindle. If it's a successful enough product, all e-readers will be called Kindles whether their genuine brand-names like it or not, and that's the way new names generate.
I was just reading an article from The Times Online about the (yawn) Death of Books, and pondering my favourite thought, which is: when peak oil runs out, if we haven't got our shit together with alternative energies, the internet really will be only for those who Have. If books are dead, and information is only accessible online, then we really will have Haves and Have-nots, everywhere. This is my post-apocalyptic extension of 'how does the information contained in books survive the constant shifting of software that leaves much behind and only translates what is deemed relevant?'. As someone who has worked in desktop publishing pretty much from the moment it went onto computers (I just felt a grey hair go PING), I have witnessed many incarnations of books fall by the wayside, trapped on disks, drives, sticks, all holding files that are now impenetrable. One particular project I'm still involved with (on a very sideline level) has spent the last 20 years (PING) trying to perfect a way to strip down their carefully researched and formatted scholarly editions into some holy grail of simple code that can coast along the surface of a very rough software (and hardware) ocean. I don't know how successful they've been, but it's been a long journey in a very leaky boat.
I do think about this stuff a lot; I have a recurrent daydream/nightmare (depending how busy I am) where the internet crashes and people come knocking at my studio door wanting me to handset and print the newspaper for them (PING).
I'm a big believer of books as physical objects: I have a very broad concept of what can be a book, from sculptural objects to conceptual ideas of bookiness... I can see that the computer can conceptually 'be' a book, but I'm starting to be a firm believer in the internet being a provider of information rather than a holder of books.
I also think, and I'm hoping this will go down well at a conference of artist's book makers, that we are really well placed in time to be working with books. Now that books have pretty much ceased to be the dominant provider of information and moved into a more specialised sector of the market (I really doubt that pulp novels will ever stop being made, unless people come up with a e-reader that can cope with steam and sand), there is no better time to be pushing it as a symbol, even a relic, of a time that people are or will be highly nostalgic about. Making beautiful books -- or making undervalued books valuable again by altering or reworking them -- will ensure that the physicality of books survives and is nurtured.
Any thoughts? Remember that this is me thinking aloud and completely unstructured; I'm very happy to be slapped down on any points or pulled up to the mark regarding generalisations or research. Any pointers as to places I should be looking at will be appreciated and fully acknowledged in my paper.
*Ceiling Cat being the main deity in this household, with a small subsection being a Jedi follower. I was once married to someone from the Bureau of Stats. I take the Census seriously.