E-books: Franzen vs. Zimmer • 5 February 2012 • The SnowBlog

E-books: Franzen vs. Zimmer

It's a tricky thing to rail against the march of technology. It's very easy to seem like a grumpy old fool - even if you have a point. And it's an activity with an embarrassing history. You risk joining the ranks of people who thought phones, computers, trains, cars, television and the internet were silly fads. Jonathan Franzen takes a crack at it in the context of e-books, and I have to say I think he makes a hash of it. He comes at e-books from a couple of angles, starting by pointing out their flaws compared with a paperback. Paperbacks are cheap and robust so: "No wonder capitalists hate them." What? And he seems to suggest that ink is more respectful of good work than a digital file. Then he stumbles into the weeds by suggesting that the impermanence of digital books might just undermine society. There's a pretty good response to this silliness by NYT science writer Carl Zimmer at Discover Magazine. But Franzen, like so many people who rant about the internet, fails to understand what he's looking at. By creating millions of copies of a book, digitally locking each one and then distributing them around the world, a book can achieve permanence with a thousand times the speed of a paper book. Whatever evil lurks within the idea of electronic publishing, I'm pretty sure it's not on the list Jonathan Franzen has drawn up. If you read his words summarised in the Telegraph then I should say that I start to agree with him in the second half of the piece. It's great that President Obama can read at college-graduate level and does so voluntarily (unlike the previous incumbent). And I never tire of people pointing out that bankers and big business control the political process (I've been in the tiny majority who believed that for a while now and it's great to suddenly have so much company).


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