While the press last week focused on how the book is dead and the masses have moved on, I was thinking of my visit to a friend of my son, who needed a guinea pig in an experiment his lab was running, something about looking at how people make choices and what they do with the results. As we sat talking, I was struck be the layers of sticky-notes covering the walls and other vertical surfaces in his office, some linked by arrows pointing to others, some stuck in patterns to indicate they were part of the same idea or train of thought, while some were alone. My eyes wandered to one wall of the office, half covered by a large white board, scrawls of different hands in various colors everywhere, only where it was not also covered by sticky notes. On one end of the table where we sat across from each other there was a stack of legal pads, seemingly full of scribbles and diagrams, doodles, drawings, notes, and more stickies.
And, between each desk, desks on which sat state of the art computers, there were bookcases, some full of books. Many of these were to be expected, "The Access 2010 Bible," Visual Guide to Excel 2007 Macros," "Visualize This," "Learning Monotouch," but then there were the occasional thriller, one cookbook, and I think I saw a complete Yeats, but maybe it was Keats.
I asked about this preponderance of paper, and after being met by a blank stare, my computer scientist interrogator said that paper is better because you can handle it. I thought about this, and later did a little reading on the subject, and it seems that there is a link between handling the language, literally putting your fingers on it, moving it about, ripping off a corner to pass to a colleague, penciling a note between paragraphs, and how well the information settles in your mind.
I have since discussed reading habits with doctors , other computer scientists, and a pharmaceutical sales rep, and have found that very few of them have embraced e-readers. They say some similar things. My doctor even said that he remembers books in the best way if he smells the pages. This was before he knew I make my living by wholesaling remainders and overstock books to booksellers and others that sell books. He just volunteered his experience.
Now, I am not deluded enough to think that my industry and livelihood are not taking a big hit from the current infatuation with e-books, and I also believe we have a long way to go before we figure out how those of us who hang on to this ancient traffic in scrolls and books will survive, but I do not believe this is being plotted out on the music industry template. There are so many people writing about this who have no knowledge of the way books have been sold for the last 500 years, and very few of us have looked at what the paper/mind connection is and what it does. Humans have been doing their thinking with paper for thousands of years, long enough to somehow be in our genes.
So maybe we will become a tiny industry, selling books to the smartest people on the planet. I'm in.