TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Can and will books ever be replaced by something other than we know it today?

Can books become completely intangible? Can the "feeling" of a book change with its texture? From clay tablet to papyrus to manuscript to book: will the book morph into something new?

Topics: book ebook ebooks manu

Closing Statement from Leo Genazzano

This brainstorming session focused on the the question "Can and will books ever be replaced by something other than we know them today?". I was surprised to find a diverse collection of answers, many of them thought provoking, insightful, or just plain cool. Go on, take a glance.

For those who are interested to see some more "brain-picking" answers, I recommend Amir Azizi Sarajy, Don Stewart, Mary M, Stuart Woods 's work.

  • thumb
    Apr 8 2012: What is the book? What is the language? What is the words? It is the media, we use to communicate, express and share our knowledge and feelings.
    To make a movie we need a screenplay, to make a videogame we need a screenplay.

    I think books can be replaced only when humankind will create a technology of telepathy=)
  • thumb
    Apr 13 2012: Ebooks are already very popular. I think it will happen, you know, books becoming all digital. But it's still far off. Hopefully, not in my lifetime. I love the feel of good old-fashioned books in my hands...
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2012: Waterstones in Britain has the tagline 'Feel every word' and I think this sort of embodies what you mention as the changing nature of how the object feels in our hands. Whilst I don't believe that the electronic devices and the traditional book are mutually exclusive I do recognize the fear people have in any potential demise of the paper format. Paper has morphed over the centuries and now contains much material which our ancestors would not recognize. I have seen 'paper' made from recycled plastic and other objects and as such now need not be made wholly from actual trees. Paper absorbs smell and so will continue to be distinct from an electronic device. Libraries have within them centuries of amassed meaning and and the symbolism of knowledge. The sheer presence of actual knowledge within books will always be seductive and compelling to humans (I like to think more than is wrapped up in our ego) .The electronic device will never replace a book. It does, however, offer a very convenient and portable alternative for NEW reading but does not I believe, stand to represent what we FEEL about ACCUMULATING reading and knowledge. I think of the scene in Harry Potter in Dumbledore's office and despite possessing sufficient magic to hold all his books 'virtually' in time and space he decides to have them exist on paper on towering shelves...why? because of what they represent and project about us as humans. I think paper (in whatever sustainable format it can) will endure. At the other end of the spectrum (literally) and in terms of sustainability, are we ready to ask , what will we do instead of toilet paper in the future? The same predicament exists. Books will live forever!
    • Apr 11 2012: Hello Mr. Woods
      While I like your answer to my question (especially the example from Harry Potter) I recommend you to see my counter-argument in reply to Mary M.
      Couldn't Dumbledore had a library of scrolls? Or Kindles? Don't Kindles represent us humans?
      Thank you
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2012: What happens if you take a Kindle to a book signing?
    • thumb
      Apr 9 2012: That is rather funny.I wonder if 60 years from now we will wax over the virtues of the kindle and how it smells.

      The problem is is that you can't beat a book.
      • thumb
        Apr 9 2012: My problem is my house, my garage, my storage lock-up are all full of books. And that's just the ones I plan to refer to or read again. Love books but out of space!
        • Apr 9 2012: i think that's amazing. but how do you find the one you want ? do you know where they all are ?
        • thumb
          Apr 9 2012: LoL you need to open your own library or seek digital versions.
      • thumb
        Apr 9 2012: Started transferring to digital only for all my work about 7 years ago, but have lots of legacy hard copies that are difficult to incorporate into the system. Use a computer based index for the hard copies.
        • thumb
          Apr 10 2012: Yes that's a major problem,today's drives are tomorrows legacy drives.I think the IDE drives have a life expectancy of ten years?SSD's 5 years? A book much longer.Even storing online is a risk,look what happened to Capathia's servers when Kim Dotcom was arrested,now all that data will be wiped.

          I think the future of physical storage will be through nanotech so that we could have a book that looks exactly like a natural book but instead is a mass storage unit,Sci-Fi-ish but take a look at the next generation of memchips below.

    • thumb
      Apr 10 2012:  
      A more important question: why does celebritism still affect you? If you like an author's book, then sure, meet the person, ask him or her questions that weren't answered or explained in the book. Talk to him or her about related topics. But getting his or her autograph? That just seems silly to me, like a rock band groupie-type of activity.
      • thumb
        Apr 10 2012: I don't think of authors as celebrities, but as someone who has shared their thoughts with me. Signing the book gives the book itself a more intimate connection with the person whose ideas it contains. Signed books in general seem to have a certain aura. Have an aeronautics text book that was owned by Frederick Handley-Page (a pioneer aircraft designer) that he signed. Have a family bible signed by members of each generation of my family since 1879.
  • Apr 21 2012: Hello all TEDies!
    Me again. 12 hours to go, and I don't know whether I will have time to say a nice "thank you and goodbye" before the closing words. And I have promised to share my own feelings and thoughts at the end of the conversation. However, I don't think it's fair that I should write my own feelings in the closing line (your ideas are just as smart) so I am writing my own post.
    I think that books will live on. I also think that other "writing mediums" (like the Tablet) will enter our world and share the spotlight. Perhaps they will even steal it for a few months. But the book, our tired faithful friend, will stay with us a little while longer.
    Practically, it is very useful. It is compact. It can have pictures. You can tell the difference between one and the other at a glance.
    This does not mean it will stay with us forever. Nothing human-created stays with us forever. But if so many of us love the book, I don't see a reason it should go. Yet.
    Thank you all very much. Have wonderful lives. לחיים.

    Leo Genazzano
    (By the way, you probably won't care, but this is a pseudonym. Bye!)
  • thumb
    Apr 16 2012: I think the book and the CD are both going the way of vinyl in recording. It's unfortunate, and I will not give up real books, or CDs in my lifetime.

    The thing that concerns me most about this trend is that digital information can be changed instantly, and easily, to something completely different. It can also be destroyed with the flick of a button. The other problem with digital is that your access can be limited with the flick of a button (read and analyse your amazon or kindle TOS) Hard-copy is much more difficult to change, and once you pay for it, you OWN it (instead of just "the right to access it"). I would refer you to the recent re-make of the movie "Animal Farm", or better yet, the book by George Orwell.
  • Apr 16 2012: I never really though of a book as anything more than a story to be read. But in reality, books are more than paper with words. Books are decorations, and expression of style, a visual testimony to your personal intellectual journey, sitting right on your bookshelf. Books have a real life presence, they take up space and consume resources... and live far beyond their original reading. They provide a history of memory at a glance. Like photo's or paintings... just because technology can display them on a screen does not diminishthe value of their physical incarnations. I imagine will will continue to see both medium so long as the technologies and resources exist to produce them both.
  • Apr 14 2012: YES !!!... I think that all books can be replaced by something much better. Experiences. Like in the fictional Pensieve in the Harry Potter Series.

    Once we understand and how the brain works, it might be possible to download memories (like in Matrix series) and experiences. Of course there could be many variants of these technologies. But I believe that the demand for tangible books will dwindle over time.
  • Apr 13 2012: Still far off, or hope so :)
  • Apr 11 2012: Sometimes it is not just about the book itself. When someone is on a train, bus or in a public place they say something about themselves with the book they are reading. It allows others to take a glimpse into that persons live and imagine what kind of person they are. It's a social thing.
    The same interaction can also influence the watchers decision on the next book they read.
    Kindles and others make that kind of interaction impossible and the reader becomes insular.
    Will digital effect sales of books?
    I believe there is a good case for keeping the book.
    • thumb
      Apr 11 2012: I agree, when you visit someones house for the first time, you can find out a lot about the real person by looking at their bookshelf
    • Apr 11 2012: I agree. Sometimes is also a way to start a conversation, and you can discover new interesting people for this reason:)
  • Apr 10 2012: The purpose of any book is to convey a message; a story. The manner in which it is transcribed, whether it be on an actual book, tablet (electronic or stone), wall etching or napkin, is secondary to the quality of the communication. Stories were told for thousands of years before tools were created to write them down, and they will continue to be so in the future. I think words are incredibly powerful. They can hurt, they can mend, they can bring great joy or sadness. They can motivate and inspire people to achieve greatness and they can help up to share experiences. I love the physical experience of holding an actual book. I also love the functionality that online e-book offers. But most of all, I love the messages they hold, regardless of what form they take on.
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2012: One day the content of books will be sent directly into the brain via a USB type plug - thus by-passing the need to visually decode text - the information / emotion will pass straight into our memory.

    Hopefully I'll be long gone by then.
    • thumb
      Apr 10 2012: I think the very first person that has that will go into a catatonic state as the brain locks up from a strange rearrangement.
      • thumb
        Apr 11 2012: Hay, you're probably right - but even today we have cochlear implants!
    • thumb
      Apr 11 2012: That is a good idea for the future, but I really hope they know more about the human brain than they do now!
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2012: I sure hope not.
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2012: Books, as a mean to lay down information is probably here to stay. It is a way for some people, who like to write, to compose their art in a way that is ireplaceable. The intimacy between the writer and his lines, the way how he can oversee sections of his work and manipulate them to perfect them is not possible by neither voice or video recording; It has to be writing. And some people like to write, it is a form of art, just like composing music, or painting.

    Also, some information is most easily accessible via a booklike structure (in spite of the fact that the flow of information this way is quite slow, as a fellow member mentioned earlier). Take for example a documentation: it is very annoying having to wind back a video in order to understand a section which proves difficult to get at such fast pace.

    Books as a means of storing information, will probably change. But for that to happen, digital sorage needs to be more reliable by many magnitudes of order compared to how it is now. It will also need to be an open format: it will not be acceptable to be coerced into buying a certain gadget in order to be able to read a book.
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2012: Story-telling is universal to humanity, perhaps 100,000+ years old.
    Books are beloved by many cultures of the world, but they are only
    the mass market delivery vehicle of the last few hundred
    They will likely be replaced with a new form of technology.
    But we must be careful not to throw out the baby, and find
    a way to properly reward authors and other book-making
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2012: Hi Leo and thanks for this hot conversation .

    you know everyone grows up with a different culture , different heroes , different values , lets say I am writing a book and I say : I saw a very beautiful girl . As a reader you'd immediately think of the most beautiful girl You have seen, not the one I am SHOWING on the screen , so you are relying purely on your cultural , personal life and experience and you d dive into your own world , That is how a book works.

    say I am a film maker , and I am saying the same thing on screen , I will show a cute girl, but you may or may not like her , you will see my VISION, not YOURS. That is why I am saying people would get the same thing , I mean , you ask 100 different people about a cute girl and they ll give you 100 different ideas , not a unified single one .

    But the biggest difficulty with Books is the fact that they are bounded and limited to the language and culture that created them, that is why Jokes do not work in other languages , hence the term Lost in Translation .

    The future needs faster way of information transference , communication and spreading the idea in the shortest possible time.

    People do not have time to listen, they might just have enough time to take a look , and they are from hundred different nations , that is why I am saying Cosmopolitanism will take over and images will be more ubiquitous

    Best, Amir
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2012: Books as the way they are will be replaced for sure, something like Apple's new Book will take place, something interactive because book by nature is slow, I mean its a pack of organized information and by reading it you r trying to get that packages into your mind , but the pace is really slow and certainly very slow for 21 century.

    I think reading would have its place cause its the most abstract way of imagining and imagination practice , I mean if 100 people see a movie they d probably get the same thing more or less but same 100 reading a book , each would make the world of their own.

    But I think books in future would rely more on Pictures and Culture free info delivery packs and less on culturally bounded languages based words.

    the reason by my sight is Globalism and Cosmopolitanism , people of the world are all connected , and image has a universal language , words do not .

    if you show an apple to people from 190 different countries all will have the same idea , granted symbolic use of it might evoke different meaning but say in a normal context , it would seem like apple to all of this Global viewers to say that in words you have to translate it to 170 languages .
    • Apr 19 2012: Hello Amir
      I have understood the general gist of your meaning but there is a slight paradox in your comment. I understand what you said about "if 100 people see a movie they'd probably get the same thing more or less but same 100 reading a book , each would make the world of their own". It is one of the points I like about the book.
      However, you also said books will rely more on pictures. A movie, though, is after all a
      series of pictures. Can you explain this to me? You are going in a new direction in this talk.

      However, I beg you to reply quickly as this conversation ends in 2 days.

      Very grateful
  • Comment deleted

    • Apr 19 2012: Good day Don
      You really are excited about the radio idea! Well, I think the radio is great too. But today it shares the stage with iPods and downloaded music. But it isn't gone entirely...
      Maybe that's what's going to happen with books. They might continue being made, while something new (the Tablets and Kindles) will come and steal the spotlight for a while. Maybe the Tablets will return to live a life hand in hand with the book. Like the radio and the iPod.

      Thanks for the inspiration, you made my day.

  • thumb
    Apr 18 2012: Leo sicuro che lei conosce Alessandro Baricco....eil suo libro "I barbari".....
    Per non andare senza guida in questo mestiere dei libri e meglio vedere che cosa pensa Baricco e anche Luciano De Crescenzo, e Mondadori, e Latterza e Franco Maria Ricci, e Enaudi, Corraini e tanti altri.

    Una domanda per te...A che cosa chiama libro?....sicuro che non e quella da dove nascono i film.....o no?

    • Apr 19 2012: Hi Jaime
      (I am writing in English for the benefit of other users.)
      I never have heard of "I Barbari" but according to what I read it seems to talk about a type of dystopia. Have you read it? Can you tell me (us) what it's about?

      • thumb
        Apr 20 2012: Leo, the original edition is from Fandango Libri, Roma 2006. and its about the barbarian invasion from inside. Baricco writes about how we lost the original culture aim because we use the short cuts to everywhere. Among this shorcuts are the simulated books, the no-books.
  • thumb
    Apr 18 2012: I think 'replaced' is the wrong verb. With the advent of the Internet, the TV evolved to digital transmission, we search for information via Google, yet we still have libraries...

    So I suppose books will evolve, rather than be replaced.
    • W T 100+

      • 0
      Apr 18 2012: Loved this understanding and vision....yes evolve....thank you...Phew...many of us are worried...Leo has opened up a can of worms.....
    • Apr 19 2012: Evolved... What a nice verb! I daresay it has a calmer connotation than "changed". How though, aesthetically, will they change? Do you mean that every few years a subtle change- a thinner book cover, a digital blurb- will pass and morph its shape?

      I really want to hear as many answers as possible.
  • thumb
    Apr 18 2012: I would like to say no but unfortunately, yes. A good example is the Kindle. Its a hunk of plastic, glass and maybe some metal. I think its ruining our old age tradition of books. When someone gets a new book they can feel the pages and smell that rotten smell that most books have (even though it is nice sometimes). With a Kindle, you cant get that same experience. My point is that we need to keep our tradition of physical books alive. At least, that would be my dream. But instead, we are spiraling downward and Kindles, iPads, and other electronic book readers are leading the way.
  • thumb
    Apr 17 2012: God I hope not.

    My wife tells me constantly that I smell like old books. I take that as a sign of love, even though I know what she's saying is to get my butt out of the library and go help her work in the garden.

    Doesn't lend anything to the discussion, but at least you know that there are those of us still here who are enraptured with the tactile presence of the physical book. And even though my iPad does mean I can read in peace while my wife can sleep, but I will state that when armageddon comes and all batteries are dead, then y'all gonna be beating down my door asking for something to read by candlelight.

    Not to worry though. The Verble Gherulous library is always free and open to the public.
  • Apr 17 2012: Hello all TEDies
    There are 4 more days left till shutdown. I have gathered most of the answers here and divided them into 5 groups.

    BOOKS ARE...

    1. Never going to go away and don't even hint they will!

    2. Already gone. The next generation won't even know how to flip a page.

    3. Going, going... But not quite gone. They probably will be after I am no more.

    4.Should go. Tree-hugging rocks!

    5. (new suggestion) going to be only one of the story reading mediums in our future, unlike today, where it is the main device.

    Can the answers be categorized differently? Do we need to zoom out to see the answers?
    I will try and post my answer (I realize my rhetoric questions are become very tiring) another time.

    If anyone knows the answer to this question please help! What happens to the conversation after the discussion time is up? I have never started a conversation until now. Thanks.

    Leo G.
    • W T 100+

      • 0
      Apr 17 2012: Hi Leo, well, you have the ability to extend the conversation by changing the time left....this happens when you log on and come to the conversation. Your screen will look different from ours.Also, when the conversation officially closes, because time has run out, you can go to the conversation, and you will see that there is a special box for you to post 'Closing Remarks'........you will get to have the last word. If you want to know what it looks like, here is a link to a conversation I started, and then closed:

      • Apr 18 2012: Thanks very much, Mary. I will certainly use your help.
  • Apr 17 2012: I don't believe that books will ever go out of style. I am a full time student; I read and study basically all the time. Most of my classes have very heavy text books. a few of my classes have just ePub books or short articles to read. once I read the article, my relationship with the article is basically complete. with my text books, I read them, look at diagrams, scribble in the margins, highlight them. I flip the pages madly when looking for answers. when I am done my exams, I put them on my bookshelves to refer back to. I know where the information I want is, I can go back to it.

    reading for pleasure is the same thing. I love flipping pages and holding the book. looking for dogearred pages even years later reminds me of how much I loved my novels. they sit on my shelf, tempting me take a break. my bookshelf is a better testament to my personality and tastes than just about any other object in my house.

    I think we might augment books, but I for one will never replace my beloved books.
  • thumb
    Apr 15 2012: Books made of paper are on a short road to obsolescence. It's progress. It's all good.
  • Apr 15 2012: i believe that the book as we have known it is dying and as the old guard vanishes and that great page turner turns to a great page scroll children are already being turned on to palms its just the way it goes i remember the first time i was first confronted with an escalator scary the steps were moving up to that moment i moved and the steps stood still and so it goes now i see little kids walking towards a door and just keep walking knowing the door will open the coming generations will accept this as normal and then theres the bean counters they are already factoring in what will be saved by this change and the tree huggers are jumping with joy so hold tightly to your tomes they will be joining the dodo bird soon
  • Apr 14 2012: Greetings all TEDies
    Me again. I would like to remind you that there is one week to post your enlightening, fantastic, awesome, and interesting comments only YOU can write.
    I am still perplexed with the question I asked in my previous post ("Does the fact books are relatively common and hold information for everyone make them popular? So popular, in fact, that they will never go away?") and am eagerly awaiting for more examples.
    Leo G.
    • W T 100+

      • 0
      Apr 15 2012: I just thought of something.......why books only......think about a greeting card.......

      Isn't it great to get greeting cards and invitations by mail?

      There is something totally "humane" in receiving a message IN YOUR HANDS.....you can touch it, smell it, see it, hear it, display it, spray perfume on it.......Well, books are kind of like that.......

      It's not the same cozying up to a good book, than cozying up to a metallic cold lighted up screen. You have to be in fear of spilling food on it, a drink could render it useless.......and what about pop up books....the kind you open and bam....a beautiful illustration.......Some books are textured for children to feel....others have holes....like the "very hungry caterpillar"....who eats his way through fruits and cupcakes......I know, these are children books...they will probably continue to be made.

      There are also beautifully illustrated adult books. Some books have beautifully edged sides, some have ribbons to mark the pages as you go. I could go on and on Leo.....your question has so many things to say......and being an avid reader and a teacher I have been around so many many books that I can't imagine a world without them.

      "To the making of many books there is no end".....Wise King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:12

      Bet you didn't know the scriptures talked about book making huh??? Look up the text and you'll see the second half of the text......quite a balanced vie of life, if you ask me.

      Arrivederci (did I spell that right?)
      • Apr 16 2012: Hi
        I find lots of truth in the paragraphs you wrote. I am guessing that what you wrote could connect with all bookworms in the world. I hope there WILL be bookworms in the future to "feel" the book, as you (and others) said.
        This post has given me a new idea. Thanks again for describing your experience.
        • W T 100+

          • 0
          Apr 16 2012: You are welcome.

          I would love to hear what you are going to do with all the information you have collected here.