Books could almost be immortal

I have seen many debates over that last few years about whether the introduction of the eBook has killed the publishing industry. Many have asked whether books are a thing of the past. It’s a valid question but this is not the first time the question has been asked.

Think about all the old doomsday stories. In many of them, society has been left to flounder and the knowledge of the past is frequently lost. Reading becomes a lost skill or something that only a select few know. Languages evolve and unless certain knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, history becomes this mysterious thing that none of us understand.

This becomes complicated by the fact that books of the paper variety are vulnerable to the external forces. Natural disasters, such as tsunamis and floods, have destroyed many libraries and quite likely many precious volumes that can never be replaced. War has seen books burn simply because those in power didn’t like what the books said. Throughout history, scholars have been executed because they possessed the knowledge contained in books.

Has the introduction of eBooks killed the publishing industry? I don’t thing so. If anything, it’s probably saved it.

For the first time in history, books can spread around the world in a matter of seconds, reaching the target readers the moment a book is released. The number of books is on the rise, with many now self-publishing in electronic format, realizing life-long dreams of becoming a published author.

The knowledge contained in those precious eBooks can spread far and wide, and quickly, thanks to the Internet. Events like book burnings are now unlikely to destroy that precious knowledge — at least what’s left of it. We still have the issues that were brought on by our past to contend with.

Consider one of the most controversial books of all time: the Bible. Events of our past are detailed in those pages, but exactly how accurate those tellings are… no one can answer. The original texts were not only written in a language that no one uses today, and few partially understand, but the bible has been translated into many different languages, rewritten and translated again. It is a known fact that sometimes meanings are lost during translations.

In addition, whole sections of the Bible have been omitted or destroyed because the ruling monarchy of the time didn’t like the implications of the words used. And in this society of I-want-it-now, publishers have condensed the Bible, deliberately choosing to not publish whole chapters and verses, even though the introduction of eBooks means that the size of a volume is no longer an issue. Then comes the question of which version of the Bible should one read?

For fear that I might be lynched, I’m going to say it: the Bible has become an unreliable mess. There is absolutely no way of knowing how much detail is fact or embellished fiction.

But none of this answers the question of whether eBooks have killed the publishing industry, or whether books are a thing of the past. In my opinion, books are immortal knowledge — and it doesn’t matter what form they come in. The written word is still the written word.

Books are our way of telling those in the future what has come before. Like those of us who read the Bible now, there is no doubt in my mind that those in the future will get a skewed picture of today, unable to say how much they read is pure fiction and how much is fact. But the messages and lessons written in those pages will remain. The authors of those books will truly be immortal and in some cases revered because they took the time to detail their hopes and dreams for all to read.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from a book that talks about lost knowledge and how sometimes the written word is the only way to pass on that knowledge to the next generation. (While the fictional novel is not the best book I’ve read, the quote I feel sums up this argument nicely.)

That was one of the reasons Richard had always considered books to be so important, why he sought them out, and why he put so much effort into gleaning information from them. Books were links that spanned such missing human bonds or even times of savagery and its resulting ages of ignorance.

It was helpful if you had an elder who could pass on their knowledge, but if there were no elders to teach you for whatever reason, books filled the void, not merely in generations, but often in centuries and something even millennia. Books served to keep hard-won knowledge safe. They endured. Books could almost be immortal.

— Terry Goodkind, The Third Kingdom

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