Monday, March 12, 2012

From Palm leaves to Palmtops - An elegy to the physical book.

The printed book as we know it today,is on its death bed.The book in its present form,since it was first brought forth by the Chinese Buddhists to propagate The Diamond Sutra,or perfected later by Gutenberg to publish The Bible has been man's most convenient companion to disseminate knowledge.

Long before script came into vogue,man relied on his memory to store large sequences of meaningful sentences that could run into hundreds of pages.Advances in the scientifc analysis of phonetics and skillful use of meter proved to be essential in this endevour.This is the first physical form of the book.The poetic raptures of one of the ancient man's of awe and excitement,fear and gratitude towards the enigmatic nature surrounding him, have been passed down to us in this form.Changes in the networking of neuronal synapses of the human brain is the only hardware employed in this form.

The invention of script for the language and subsequent discovery of certain leaves like palm or papyrus that allow in making the impressions of the alphabet on them ushered in the second generation in the avatar of the books.

Advent of the printing press brings in the third generation.Books of this generation,can be felt,can be smelled,weigh and occupy physical space.Also position of a certain sentence or paragraph is always fixed and remains the same once the book is printed.

These books can be borrowed;especially before the examinations,they can be easily photocopied.They can be easily stolen and required pages can be tored off comfortably from university libraries.Used books are also sold in the second hand market.At times,one may find a rarebook offered almost for free of cost on the pavement.Pages of the old books,like the ones bought by great grand father,turn brittle,mellow into yellow tinge and break at the slightest stress.

Digitization is the latest trend in the evolution of the physical form of the books.These fourth generation Books,or ebooks as they are reffered to,are stored in the large clouds of the internet companies, sold and distributed wirelessly.To borrow a book,one may need to borrow the tablet of the owner,or may be credentials of his account.Nothing much can be said at this stage, as the etiquette has not yet evolved.No longer a future Tolstoy would need to borrow shelves to keep his borrowed books.Nolonger a Vivekananda of the coming age could resolve the exact page number of the topic he was asked from the encyclopedia books,though he could reproduce verbatim,to the consternation of the awed enquirer,it's content.Gone are the days, when a studious law maker like Ambedkar needs a spacious house in order to accommodate his half lakh book personal library.