Posted by: kararc | November 10, 2012

In an e-publishing future, will books still be agents of change?

In The Shallows, Nicholas G. Carr describes the ways that the digitization of books could influence how books are written. He writes about the possibility of books being written by crowd-sourcing and ahow books in digital form can be endlessly edited and revised.

Most importantly, the digitization of the book means we can all be writers. This is already happening through blogging and self-publishing.

There are many positives about this shift, but one big negative is on my mind – losing the power of books to change us. In traditional publishing, manuscripts are vetted by expert editors and publishers before publishing, and then evaluated by expert critics. This allows readers to learn, from authority figures, what is valuable and what isn’t. It also gives support to radical or experimental books, helping us understand them and see their value.

A new publishing world where everyone is a writer necessarily means an anti-authoritarian stance. Every piece of writing is instantly available, no matter its quality, with the result that any piece of writing is perceived as just as valuable as any other. Is this a good thing? Perhaps. But there’s a danger that we will read only what meshes with our already-held opinions. Without publishing choices and criticism to tell us why something new and different matters, we may never read outside our comfort zones. Without that, books won’t change us.

Can democratization go too far? Is there value in aesthetic judgment? In an e-publishing future, can books still be agents of change?

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