Books online are an interesting phenomenon. They represent the newest way for humans to store knowledge, specifically utilizing the hyperlink. The mix between eBooks, books online, and the interconnectedness of text through hyperlinking is a world of difference from just the last century.
That is what was different about Google in that early Internet era where Yahoo and Alta Vista were viable search options. Google made a cache of the website, an actual copy of the text. They, in essence, created a massive library and thereby became the fastest search engine. What once was impossible to think of because of computer memory is now standard practice because of memory. Things are becoming cheaper and the sky is no longer the limit anymore.
The Gutenberg project was one of the first online projects I remember reading about back when we used to refer to the Internet as the “information super highway”, a term that would make any self-respecting nerd/hacker-wannabe cringe. The Gutenberg project aimed to provide free books online of titles that were in the public domain. I believe it was crowd-sourced at the time, where donors would upload their text (and I assume present it to the review of some kind of scholarship) and make it available to the public.
Such an online library is making that private expression of wealth, a home library, something anybody from any walk of life can enjoy. That sounds obvious. As in, obviously it’s available around the world, of course. But what I am saying is that at one time a home library was something painstakingly constructed over time, perhaps over generations within a family, and became the repository sometimes of books nowhere else to be found.
This is still the case to some degree. Libraries and universities still house books of such ancient civilizations or brittle construction that one can only access them through appointment and only in a special room. The Rare Books collection is a way for libraries and institutions to distinguish themselves. With books online, such distinctions are made global. With books online, a kid in the projects has a fair shot at learning something that would otherwise require of him to take an hour bus ride into another city.
But what do I know. I am only certain that with the plethora of smart phone these days, books online are being READ more often than before. The size of screens is now making reading on the bus or subway, or wherever, that much less a strain on the eye! It’s amazing. Because of MORE technology, we have more OLD-FASHIONED love for books! I love it. It’s a technological revolution to the book industry. Books online are here to stay. And that’s a great thing.
On the other hand, my co-worker’s wife argues, that books online present copyright challenges for new authors and the book industry in general. She says everybody is stealing through peer-to-peer file sharing and the book industry is no exception. I have to admit she is right to an extent, because I myself have relatives who download movies (that are still in theaters!!) and watch them even though they sometimes prefer to go to the theater. It’s a convenience thing. But they don’t really see it as stealing. So many people do it these days, I’m sure the industry is losing money in some way (no matter how glamorous the Oscars portray the stars to be).
But to paraphrase Jay-Z, the recording industry is in trouble, not the music industry. Let me extend that to the world of books online. The publishing industry may be in trouble, but not literacy. Books online actually increase literacy.
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