Al Mohler calls this a “tragic announcement“:
Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. announced Tuesday that it would no longer offer its venerable reference set in a printed edition. Western Civilization just took another hard blow to the chin.
Mohler bemoans the fact that the experience of reading a physical book will soon be relegated to the sidelines of twenty-first century life.
But reading a physical book, with words printed on paper, is a different experience than reading on a screen. The experience of reading Britannica with a barfing brother in the back of the car is about to go the way of the station wagon—into the mists of history.
Besides the fact that I think there is good reason to believe that the digital reading experience will continue to evolve into something more and more similar to the experience of reading a paper book, what exactly does this comment even mean? What is so important/valuable about this undefined “experience” that should be preserved? Mohler never gives any details (though he hints at something when he notes that the experience of reading paper books is devoid of “digital sound and fury,” whatever that means). He continues,
I also believe that the experience of reading the Bible on an iPhone is radically different from the experience of reading the Bible in printed form, feeling the texture of the book as our eyes take in the inspired text.
Radically different? Really?
Sometimes I wonder if similar laments were heard with the advent of the printing press. How many wise and learned men bemoaned the fact that no longer would the Word of God be meticulously written by hand, instead printed en masse on Gutenburg’s new-fangled machine? In the midst of their sad dirges, how many missed the incalculable advantages of the printing press, an advancement over the written word that would make possible the unprecedented dissemination of information and ideas? More specifically, how many common men and women were finally able to gain direct access to the written Word of God, now drastically cheaper to produce and distribute? How many similar advantages, exponentially amplified through the use of digital technology, are now being neglected for the sake of the mysteriously-important “experience” of reading a physical book?
For an interesting review of a few historical “crises” related to new information technologies, check out this article published at Slate.com. For more of my thoughts on this interesting topic, see “5 Reasons E-Books Don’t Beat Paper Books (Yet).”