Of Words, Birds and Bathwater -or- Is Print Really Dead?

With the Kindle, and now the introduction of the unfortunately-named iPad--

(a moniker which was supposed to call to mind a user-friendly suite of products. But which instead sounds like it should involve commercials where two women walk in a sunny field and speak confidentially about monthly discomfort)...

--Er, where was I?

Oh. Yes.... With the introduction of the Kindle and iPad, our friend the Paper Book might be viewed as having taken a hit.

But ever since ancient Egyptian best-selling authors said, "Hey, I've still got two more chapters to write and I've run completely out of wallspace. I'm feeling optimistic about that pile of dried fronds over there," the printed word has shown its ability to evolve.

Wholly-Accurate and Completely Trustworthy History of the Printed Word To-Date
  • Dawn of Time, noonish- First dirty limerick on cave wall well-received by early fans. Critics, however, dub it "the work of Neanderthals."
  • 3800 BC- Ancient Sumerians develop increasingly more elaborate pictograms, these featuring familiar images of birds, bare feet, sheaves, and a man in a bowler hat with an apple in front of his face. The hieroglyphics were originally used to share religious rituals, and to pass down favorite beer recipes. Old Mesopotamia, Old Mesopotamia Lite, Pain in the Asp and Golden Sarcophagus were top award winners at the 3787 BC "Pharaoh of the Brew" competition.
  • 3200 BC- Ancient Egyptians realize tombs are not terribly portable, growing tired of forcing slaves to roll the tomb from place to place using clever pulley and lever systems every time they want to share sports scores and the livestock market. Egyptians develop new fad of writing directly on barges and slaves.
  • 2800 BC- Writing on stone tablets invented after space on slaves becomes limited. These tablets are portable, but heavy and prone to damage.
  • 200 AD- Chinese win the race as Word Superpower, inventing inkblock printing on fabric two seconds before the Egyptians. Japanese adapt the technique for mass producing colorful images of big-eyed young girls in schoolgirl uniforms and brandishing superpowers.
  • 400 AD- European monks use pulp paper to craft elaborate illuminated manuscripts with the forethought of displaying them in the British Library 1500 years later, along with Beatles lyrics on cocktail napkins.
  • 1824 AD- Industrial revolution makes mass printing possible, creating a whole print industry including publishing houses, editors, and slush pile readers hired specifically to reject Charles Dickens' work.
  • 1836 AD- Charles Dickens invents self-publishing. And cliffhangers.
  • 2005 AD- Self-publishing meets the information age, allowing everyone, including your great-aunt who smells like mothballs to finally share her 1,000 page collection of incisive cat haiku.
  • 2010 AD- iPad and Kindle demonstrate that they can go where the printed page has never gone before.... Except for the bathtub.

So as you can see, print is designed to evolve and adapt. And as human society, we must adapt with it.

Why, now that we've created a hard tablet with words printed on it, which is heavy and prone to damage, where will we go next?

My theory is we're probably just one step away from having the very walls of our homes used as a surface to receive and view all important information...

We'll learn eventually.


TJ Lubrano said...

I'm really glad you wrote down the real history of print! It was indeed a close call between the Chinese and Egyptians and who was first with inkblock print on fabric. It could have been an ugly battle! But the Egyptians could keep the pyramids. But your theory; one step away from having the walls sending us information?

Man! That would complete the circle of the history of print! Going back to the walls for information. So would we have digital touch screen walls? Okay for some reason I'm not that fond of this idea...

I prefer books over digital screens anytime, probably because my days are spend behind the screen all the time ^_^.

Jenn Thorson said...

TJ- Yeah, I'm with you. I have to look at the screen all day, so I find it a lot easier to read more involved print on paper.

Jaffer said...

Moses gave us stone tablets - Jobs gives us this .... er ... I shall perhaps never look at the iPad that way again - nor touch it.

You have got the dates wrong or are a harsh critic of Magritte to have put him in 3800 BC !

Looks like there is a 3000 year piece missing in your list ! Gasp ! was there no blogging done in that time !

Unknown said...

Jaffer- Heh, I wondered if anyone would catch the Magritte reference (actually, I love Magritte, I just couldn't resist)...So you get a gold star for that one. :)

screwdestiny said...

I don't want a Kindle. I like books. The smell of a new book is one of my most favorite things in the world, and I like being able to actually see my progress as I read through a book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great laugh! This by far is one of my favorite one of your blogs! So funny! I love the reference to the man in the bowler hat with the apple. It reminds me of a great and funny scene in one of my favorite movies "The Thomas Crown Affair" (the redone version with Pierce Bronston. The original with Steve McQueen which I had the misfortune to watch was horrible. This was a case where they really did a much better job redoing the film even if it meant using the same story line.)

Unknown said...

Screw Destiny- I prefer books myself. I like to see them sitting on my shelves waiting for me. I like their dust covers. And stains. And, yes, the smell.

Anonymous-Hm, wow, it's been a long time since I saw the Pierce Brosnan version of that... I saw it once and I don't remember it very well at all. Now I'm all curious. :)

Anonymous said...

The scene is very close to the end of the movie if you want to check it out again.

ReformingGeek said...

I found something odd sitting on the desk. It has lines on it and it's about 8" by 11" and is white. There was a long straw-looking thing next to it and it had a pointy end. I have no idea what to do with this stuff.


Melanie said...

Great blog Jenn!

I too prefer books. I'd kind of like a kindle because it's a nifty new gadget and would be fun for about twenty minutes (plus has the advantage of making the print size BIGGER) but I can't imagine giving up books. What would I put in all those big hulking bookcases in my living room. Goodness I've got old paperback books handed down from dad that have cover art that's not on newer editions.

There's just something cozy and familiar about curling up with a good book that has pages that smell like the back of the thrift store.

ReformingGeek, I saw those things you mentioned underneath my desk in the dust. If you figure out their purpose, I'd love to know what they are.

Unknown said...

Anonymous- Thanks! :)

Reforming Geek- Does the thing with the lines on it have virtually unintelligible symbols on it? (Oh, wait, that's just on my desk...)

Melanie- I like the idea of these technologies. I like that folks have the option to read things this way. But like you, I do loves me a good old-fashioned book.

I also, though, really love audio-books for certain situations. Like roadtrips, and winding down at night after a long day of staring at a computer screen.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

One of your best, Jenn! I particularly love this graph: "Ancient Egyptians realize tombs are not terribly portable, growing tired of forcing slaves to roll the tomb from place to place using clever pulley and lever systems every time they want to share sports scores and the livestock market. Egyptians develop new fad of writing directly on barges and slaves." Brilliant!

v3 said...

nice article.. i love it

Thoryke said...

I am laughing so very hard right now, and you know why [although in my universe, it would have been about cocker spaniels....]

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

Learn? Ha! We never will.

Ow! I got a paper cut!

I bet the Kindle won't give me a paper cut!