A book is still a book

Although some in the technical documentation community, myself included, argue that we should eschew the mindset of "writing books" because of the baggage it forces upon our work and tools, another perspective is to simply reinvent what we mean when we speak of a book. In a 2005 interview for Locus magazine, novelist Cory Doctorow points out that the definition has changed over the years:

"People today spend as much time as they can possibly drag themselves away from the real world to sit in front of the screen reading text, and I would argue that the text they are reading, the thing they are treating like a book, is a book. Our definition of the term has gone through radical shifts over the years. Dickens's were originally newspaper serials, thousand-word chunks. There were 8" x 11" pulps that today we would treat as a book. And it's not just a thing between covers -- it's still a book if it's a scroll, if it's a file, whatever. Ultimately, a book is a literary, economic, and social practice: a bunch of things that people do with a text. And I'd say that e-books are already a sterling success, probably responsible for more economic activity than all of the traditional print books in publishing."

So, perhaps instead of insisting that we're not writing books anymore, we should simply say we're not writing old-fashioned books. From either perspective, a change in thinking is long overdue.

Posted: May 17, 2007 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item