Friday, September 25, 2009

Where Did I Put My Buggy Whip

When was the last time you used a buggy whip? Let me be clear here. When was the last time you used a buggy whip outside the bedroom? Been a while for most of us. I’d venture a guess there are a few out there that wouldn’t know a buggy whip from a bullwhip (that’s the one Indiana Jones uses). I ask because there will be a day in the not too distant future (as in our children’s lifetime) when someone will be posting here at the blog with a new question along those same lines. They’ll be asking when the last time was you cracked open a book made of paper printed with words and was perfectly bound. Just like the buggy whip, books will still be around. But just like the buggy whip there will be people that can safely say they’ve never opened one in their life.

I had a great aunt who died in 1986. A wonderful person full of stories and pictures of the past if you took the time to get her talking. She was born just before the turn of the century. A time when Fischer made horse drawn carriages and everybody knew what a buggy whip was. And more importantly, how to use one. Even outside the bedroom. She was a woman that was born under a sky that didn’t have jet trails and roads were just paths of customary use that were occasionally strewn with rock and gravel to fill up the pot holes.

But she was also a woman who learned about the Wright brother’s historic first flight as a recently passed current event in a one room school house. Prop planes were the big thing when she was dating. That and the latest fad in personal travel – the automobile. She was born without a telephone and died with a wireless handset that, if the sun was right and it wasn’t raining, would actually reach up to the second floor deck. Well, when the battery wasn’t dead. She watched the funeral of an assassinated president and men walking on the moon on a black and white television set. She watched the first shuttle launch on a color console with a beautiful maple cabinet.

Oh. And she always drove an Oldsmobile. A new one every four or five years. When’s the last time someone showed up at work in their brand spanking new Oldsmobile?

Does this mean reading will be consigned to the lost art box along with handwritten letters and drop biscuits made from scratch? Hardly. I actually believe people will be reading more. I also believe that, just like the music people are collecting today, downloaded and licensed, that the personal libraries of the future will stay with a person their entire life. They might even become a point of contention in their last will and testament. Now there’s a cartoon to mess with your mind.

When I look at e-books and e-readers today compared to where they were just four years ago I see this photograph in my head that gets flogged around a lot of black boxy cars belching smoke fighting for space with horse draw wagons and carriages on the streets of Chicago (or maybe New York). Some guy on History Channel talks about the tons (yes tons) of horse manure that had to be cleared daily. Then I look at how long it has taken us to get where we are today and the evolution and impact of the automobile on the world. Not all of it good but certainly better.

Then I think about Moore’s law concerning the advancement of computing power. Basically it said (and the law became a driving force to the outcome as much as a prediction) that computing power would double every eighteen months. And it has. And recently I read an article that discussed re-vamping Moore’s law. Twelve months should do the trick.

So if the Kindle, Sony reader, and whatever Microsoft and Apple finally put on the table in the next six months, represent the prop planes of my great aunt’s era, I can’t wait to see what we’ll have in the next five years.

Then think about getting all those horse manure littering wagons off the road and imagine where our reading technology will be in ten years.

Printed literature, pulp fiction, and text books have seen the Wright brothers of e-readers take flight. You might even say we’re all Charles Lindbergh guiding the publishing industry on its first solo flight across the vast ocean of the best seller. Okay. Some of us are Lindbergh and some of us are Amelia Earhart. But we’re all involved in the same thing. Not just the pioneering moments of a new industry and the technology that will support it.

We’re all involved in defining just how soon someone will get to ask the question – when was the last time you cracked open a book made of paper printed with words and was perfectly bound.

How about we all go out and buy an e-book today? I’d love to be around to see the comment page on that one.

Thanks for dropping by.