I attended a book launch yesterday that my company hosted. The author introduced the book and then took questions from the audience. He had brought a few copies to sign and give away. There were not enough books for everyone who wanted one, at which point the author said, don’t worry, I have a QR code here, you can use it to download the book for free’.
‘Yes, but you can’t sign an ebook’.
There are many things you can do with an ebook that you can’t with a paperback. An ebook is more practical, can be read more easily, it’s cheaper and can reach more people. Under the laws of the market, an ebook should dismantle the hardcover for ever.
But this is not what we’ve seen. I don’t know almost anyone who will prefer a Kindle to a paperback. And they won’t do that because they can’t get the Kindle signed. They won’t make the switch because the book is more than the text it carries.
Many worry that a next-generation AI will write the books that humans won’t have to. The internet is buzzing with the creative capability of the likes of GPT-4, and we marvel at the heights already attained by an ultra-literate machine. But a book is more than the text it carries, and writing a book is more than the narrative it produces. It is an experience which transforms both the writer and the reader in ways that put both on a journey of self-discovery. Not the destination, but the road – and that is precisely what is missing from common understandings of creativity and machine learning and output.
We care so much about the result that we forget the process, which is what has afforded and enabled the insights that took us where we are today. Like in so many other areas, we dig a ditch around our remarkable achievements as a culture and move next door, thinking that the work is done. But the work is never done, not even close.
I will always prefer the read book to the ebook. I like something I can hold in my hand, I like pictures I can see with my eyes without the intermediary of a screen.
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