I love paper books. That’s an understatement. Anyone who has helped me move will attest to how much they hate my love of books. So, of course, when i wanted to read Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe, i grabbed a paper copy of it. Digital is nice and all, but i’d rather have the nicely bound version available to flip through.
Then, today, i’m writing an email about the value of Rolodexes over Palm Pilot displays. I’m referencing the power of the visceral display – the ability to see the older entries, to fully grasp the size of the connections. In writing this, i remembered a passage from EST:
Art signalled the counterman for their bill. The counterman waved distractedly in the manner of a harried restaurateur dealing with his regulars, and said something in Korean to the busgirl, who along with the Vietnamese chef and the Congolese sous chef, lent the joint a transworld sensibility that made it a favorite among the painfully global darlings of O’Malley House. The bus-girl found a pad and started totting up numbers, then keyed them into a Point-of-Sale terminal, which juiced Art’s comm with an accounting for their lunch. This business with hand-noting everything before entering it into the PoS had driven Art to distraction when he’d first encountered it. He’d assumed that the terminal’s UI was such that a computer-illiterate busgirl couldn’t reliably key in the data without having it in front of her, and for months he’d cited it in net-bullshit sessions as more evidence of the pervasive user-hostility that characterized the whole damned GMT.
He’d finally tried out his rant on the counterman, one foreigner to another, just a little Briton-bashing session between two refugees from the Colonial Jackboot. To his everlasting surprise, the counterman had vigorously defended the system, saying that he liked the PoS data-entry system just fine, but that the stack of torn-off paper stubs from the busgirl’s receipt book was a good visualization tool, letting him eyeball the customer volume from hour to hour by checking the spike beside the till, and the rubberbanded stacks of yellowing paper lining his cellar’s shelves gave him a wonderfully physical evidence of the growing success of his little eatery. There was a lesson there, Art knew, though he’d yet to codify it. User mythology was tricky that way.
The digital copy let me grep, copy, paste, and reference that passage. If it weren’t that easily accessible, i wouldn’t have bothered referencing it because i know that the reader of my email will not have read (?or even heard of?) the book. But i could actually put the relevant bits into the conversation, make a reference and a recommendation all at once. With ease.
I’m not going to give up my paper copy. But oh is it nice to have both the digital and the physical. How i long for the authors of all of my other books to wake up and give me that option.