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A Philosophical Look at EBooks

 

EBooks have developed a significant presence in the last few years. I’ve created several e-books and they have really liberated my mind to express my thoughts and share my knowledge. Despite all this, I have a philosophical quandary over e-books and tree books.

There is a downside to both formats, and the more I think about it, the more I like the concept of tree books best. Let’s look at what goes into the creation of a book. Here comes the philosophy and the physics. EBooks are the product of thought. Thought is conveyed through oral conversations and through a written record. Oral conversations travel from the speaker to the listener. The listener interprets that oral transfer of thought, and processes that thought into another thought. A meme is born. A thought can go through several iterations of delivery and process by the originator of the thought and those that carry the original message to others through their own interpretation and oral communication. Interpretation is an important point. The mind does not record everything precisely. Even less now that our minds are less practiced with the need to remember. Thanks to books and the Internet. Interpretation changes the original message slightly or significantly. It is highly dependent on the interpretation of the receiver and eventual conveyor of the original message. This process of communicating and interpreting produces entropy. Entropy is essential to all we experience in the universe and the core of all variations from the original message.

A great deal of misinterpretation is removed with print. With print there is little doubt. The more thoroughly the message is written the less misinterpretation exists. The original thought can be sent out to millions with very little wavering from the original thought. I said very little wavering. There is always the possibility of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or a complete failure to grasp the concept. Each mind is a separate entity built with randomness to facilitate change and survival.

EBooks are digital interpretations of the original books written by man for millennia. EBooks are stored digitally, which in itself is not a physical thing as we have come to interpret reality over the centuries. Digital books exist in the world of electrons. Electrons are as real as the skin on your body and the electrical impulses in your brain. Digital books and thought might come to have more in common than is immediately apparent.

EBooks require a vast array of resources to support its production and existence. The entire digital infrastructure we have come to rely on is required to create an e-book. EBooks need electricity for the computer and software that record your thoughts. Electricity often requires the consumption of vast amounts of fossil fuels. Facilities need to be built to provide constant and continuous flow of electricity. This process generates waste. EBooks rely on networks of computers to store and distribute. This process may be cheaper than print books, but the energy required to keep these machines running all day and night for years continues to drain our natural resources long after an author is done writing, a publisher is done promoting and readership for a book dwindles to a trickle.

Products required for e-books require many resources in the manufacturing process. E-readers are composed of many resources and each requires resources to produce and distribute. Waste is also generated in this process. Thankfully many companies have learned the value of recycling. Once you have an e-book on your e-reader the resources to sustain this product continue. An e-reader needs to be charged so its battery can generate the electrons to display an e-book’s contents. Without electricity an e-reader cannot transfer the authors thoughts. Without the e-book the author’s thoughts die with him or her. EBooks require our current energy infrastructure to assure that the thoughts of millions continue to exist.

Print or tree books require many resources to produce and distribute. There might be as much waste as in the production of e-books. Although the waste is that of different materials, electricity is still crucial to run the machinery that produces paper. The print process is yet another cog in this process with similar electrical requirements. The central resource, trees is renewable and most companies in the paper industry have seen the light and promote the renewal of this precious resource. With the advent of mass-produced e-books the destruction of trees has slowed considerably. It costs a great deal to distribute print books because of their physical nature. They consist of large amounts of matter and mass. This requires physical transportation by train, plane or truck. By the way, e-readers must also be transported and delivered to the consumer.

This is where print books and e-books part ways. At this point print books no longer require additional resources to function. The drain on natural resources ceases. A print book has reached a state of optimal entropic equilibrium. It requires no resource whatsoever to exist. A book can lie on a shelf for generations. One can open it hundreds of years later and all the information is still there. The thoughts of the original author are there for people to read with no additional technical requirements, apart from the technology to read the text. This technology is called knowledge.

A book becomes a resource. A book no longer taxes resources and becomes a source of new knowledge and thought. This leads to entropy and entropy always leads to some form of change. Physical print books have a presence that e-books do not. A physical book sits on a shelf ready to deliver its information and does so patiently for as long as it takes. It is easy to see because it exists in our state of reality. EBooks do not have this facility. An e-book is buried deep within one device, an e-reader. The device itself is the only sign in our physical world that a book might exist in the digital realm. Unless someone browses or searches for this book then it does not exist. Perhaps it is like the philosophical question. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a book has been created and is somewhere it the electrons of our digital infrastructure, does it still exist?

Although I create many e-books, I have come to appreciate the sophistication of print books and their ability to change the world, generations after an author has died. Yes, e-books can do the same, but I wonder if e-books will stand the test of time.

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