Considering the 50th Anniversary of eBooks
The World Public Library Blog Newsletter
Volume 1, Number 16
Thursday, July 7, 2011
by Michael S. Hart
Founder, Project Gutenberg,
Inventor of eBooks
Co-Founder, The World eBook Fair
Considering the 50th Anniversary of eBooks
As we pass each milestone in the history of eBooks I like to spend as much time looking forward as looking backwards, to outline what I have set as the goals for the future as much as to point out the goals we have achieved in the past.
To that end, I once again quote my 1% Mongolian ancestry:
"If you what you did yesterday,
Still seems big to you today,
Then your goals for tomorrow,
Are not yet big enough. . . ."
Ling Fu Yu, Circa 600 B.C.
So, having posted the article earlier, about our 40th Anniversary, I would now like to spend equal time on our 50th Anniversary which will take place on July 4, 2021.
There are a number of predictions here, some more obvious than the others, some of which you might want to read over an extra time b4 you decide I have really lost my mind, but that's how I think....
The broad outline first for each one, then the details follow:
First, and to me the most obvious point that is still ignored from the the points of view of our professional punditry, is the adding up of our personal data storage to the petabyte level, as follows:
Personally, I think we could easily have petabytes in 2021, but it behooves me to add in a few years for economic restructuring or in a more plain parlance, a serious worldwide depression/recession if we don't make a more sensible economic and financial system.
Second, more to the point of my own career as inventor of eBooks-- by 2021 we will have already created eBook editions of half of the twenty-five million books in the public domain, and the process is obviously going to slow down as the copyright lobbyists continue a process of extending copyrights over and over to the point where a copyright might just as well be considered permanent.
In one sense the second half, as always, will be easier than first half eBooks were to do, as technology will continue to advance the process, both in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as becoming, at least in the first world countries, something the common person can afford without any undue concern. However, I also predict the larger eBook producers, in chronological order:
The Internet Archive
The World Public Library
will continue their eBook projects to the point where each should/would/could have millions of eBooks to share with the world if the process remains as open as it is today.
Third, I predict the expansion of eBooks beyond the anglocentric's previous domination of eBooks in English to the point where eBooks will be available by the million in other languages.
I predict that other countries and cultures will pick up on eBooks as the most powerful cost/benefit ratio in terms of educations and just plain literacy rates.
It will be interesting to see which cultures promote reading, with a comparison to those who either chose not to promote eBooks, or a political opposition to preserve the ignorance and illiteracy that tyrants and dictators have promoted throughout the years.
It will also be interesting to see if The Pacific Rim, and Europe, and perhaps even others, continue the trend of surpassing American education to the point where Americans find that international job applications are not working for them as well as they used to.
Yes, I realize I am pushing a hot button here, but unless somebody does, and keeps pushing, American education will become a farce in the eyes of the world, as it already has become in the eyes of the many who already understand the difference between solving problem sets in detail versus multiple choice.
It is a terrible thing when the grading system is so lackadaisical that they destroy the learning process, and I also include writing exams in the grading process.
Personally I would prefer the teaching process and grading process to be separated entirely.
Those who wish to learn, and only to learn, shouldn't pay graders, and be bound by anything the graders have to say or do.
Those who wish to PROVE they have learned should do so in separate environments, times, and perhaps even locations, than learning.
I wholeheartedly approve of the idea/ideal of testing all at once, after the entire learning process has been completed, to test from the point of view of long term memory, exact answers, and essays-- where the grading process is treated and paid for, as if it would/ could/should be worthy of standing on its own.
I wouldn't mind if the corporations who want to hire people as the result of their grades actually created their own grading process, leaving those who wished to live outside the corporate boundaries, as it were, free to pursue education without worrying if their fit into the cookie cutter corporate world was adequate for the job.
Let's face it, most jobs train you in the corporation and all your vaunted educational achievements only add up the a determination-- by the corporation--that you are at least educable, and then their own education system takes over to do the REAL education they want you to have for your job.
Fourth, as part of the worldwide acceptance of eBooks I predict an extraordinary rise in the street level literacy rate in both terms of a reasonable reading level, and a familiar proficiency with the tools of cyberspace the brought the eBooks to the readers.
Thus, I predict that we will see yet another generation where many will grow up with a new technology that is not really taught by an educational system, that of the cellphone and other mobile devices that will be the key to the next wave of Internet development.
I predict that when the Internet has reached half the population's potential users that half of THOSE users will be on mobile devices and that the desktop, laptop, notebook, netbook world will fall to an equal footing with mobile devices.
After that it's really a question of whether mobile devices should be able to provide mobile versions of all functions or not.
Obviously the two main physical entities that will have to be made more mobile will be the keyboard and screen. When these are going to be something you can roll up, even wad up, and put in pockets-- yes, pockets--then, and only then, will mobile devices take over a great majority of Internet usage. Yes, projections glasses might, just might, work as a screen that goes in your pocket, but, having tried them myself, I must say they will need a lot of work, before the real world users start adopting them in any major quantity.
In addition we must consider the socio-psychological implications, and what will happen when people in public have literally ignored, walled out, withdrawn from the rest of society in their new little virtual cocoons. I'm sure there will be SOME repercussions.
Fifth, as a result of the above, I predict the growing educational interest, if not corporate interest, in multilingual presentation.
As corporations find they must become multinationals, just to survive in the new marketplace, they will also find they have many needs that will not be fulfilled via a single language.
Google should be a shining light as an example of this, even if it is not quite so shiny in other areas.
Even a decade ago, before Google became a "hundred billion dollar"
monster it was very interesting if you went to Google headquarters and saw their display of all the questions being asked.
To even the most casual observer it was obvious that the greatest, and perhaps most important, difference between Google and the rest of the corporate world was the number of languages they worked in.
Even if you just watched their display for one minute it obviously indicated there were more people using Google that would likely be using any other product, simply due to multiple language access.
If you are a world traveler watching this would remind you of some lists of flights in and out of Heathrow Airport in London.
As much as The United States likes to consider itself a center for the modern world, it becomes obvious, again in only a few minutes, that world travelers go through London, not through the U.S.
The same could be similarly said for Google. . . .
In the end it will be equally said of eBooks, but more slowly, for the advances in eBooks might not be so well provided for by myself or any other providers of free eBooks, and it might well be that a country, culture or language might have to provide for itself.
Now for a prediction beyond the pale of what professional punditry anywhere has addressed, either because they have never considered, or fear to consider publicly, something that might change punditry as much as eBooks are changing reading, as wikis are changing most anything you can name, as much as the various leaks are changing a world that used to contain so much we never saw in public:
The Video Blogosphere
I predict that the advent of new cameras under $1,000 will be able to provide such clear video that any of the bloggers out there are going to be able to create their own version of THE NETWORK NEWS!
If you've ever BEEN on the network news you know just how often it is just smoke and mirrors, with the talking heads, literally there in front of cardboard cutouts of The Capitol, The Supreme Court or any number of other "location" shots that aren't what they appear.
However, with increased camera resolution, combined with audio for better quality than is available today at these prices, those blog sites will be able to compete with The Network News more than just in the written blogs we are used to today, or the little YouTubish low quality videos we usually see on blogs, when there are any.
No, what I am predicting is a number of really professional looks, some of them with talking heads as good as the professionals, and, when it comes down to it, those who are refused space on a Sunday, or other, news talk show, will have a ready supply of other media, ready, willing, and able, to bring their messages to the public.
What you are going to see in the coming years is going to be of an awfully professional quality, obviously not all of them, but in an already falling apart Network News, these people will provide NEWS that is REALLY NEW NEWS well before The Network News people and it won't be long before some of those Evening News broadcasts will be including portions from other people than their stringers, and the list of network stations that always follows the news.
The funny part is that The Network News has become so professional [Not!] that it is going to become easier and easier for the truly, actual amateur, meaning those who do something for the love of it, not so much for the money, are going to be able to do the news for the rest of us in timely manners that will threaten the "news" for being "old" by the time we see it.
Just as the world of eBooks has changed the publishing world in an obvious and manner immediately available to the reader, so too are the new news reporters going to threaten The Network News, in much the same way as newspapers are falling to the Internet news.
And remember, if you please, you saw it here FIRST. . . .