Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deep silliness at the Chronicle: banning all but ebooks

Just in time for a little Thanksgiving levity, The Chronicle publishes an article so deeply silly that it'll do your heart good: "In the 21st-Century University, Let's Ban (Paper) Books". The credits line lists some books that the author has written, including one on our old friend the "digital native," but I'm having a hard time believing that he's ever read any.

First of all, the "digital natives" will have to be "weaned" off physical books, because . . . well, because otherwise how will this guy make any money? they won't be being all modern and 21st century and such. I always thought if technology made life easier, students would use it, because they're rational beings. But if they use physical books because books serve their purposes better? Now, that's just wicked stubborn, and those books have to be taken away, like pacifiers, for their own good.

Leaving aside the issue of paper versus e-form, what about content? Don't worry:
Much of what students need to study is already in the public domain and can easily, in instances where it hasn't already been done, be converted to electronic form. Most contemporary works exist electronically, as do a huge number of historical books and documents. This would be an incentive to scan more of them.
So copyright is no problem? These books are free? "Much" is in the public domain? Well, all right, then! Just point me to the planet where this is true, please.

What about our books? No worries there, either: "Professors would have a limited time in which to convert their personal libraries to all-digital formats, using student helpers who would also record the professors' marginal notes." I love this--"limited time." What happens then? Does Oskar Werner come in and incinerate the rest after the "limited time"? Has this person ever worked at a university where even getting the TPS reports in on time is a major challenge and subject to faculty complaints? Oh, and who's paying for all these student helpers and scanning? Universities in the grip of, in Roxie's phrase, "Excellence Without Money"?

Just in case you haven't got the point yet, there's a rousing scolding waiting for you in the conclusion:
The idea of having one's own personal library of physical books, so useful in earlier times, is no longer worth passing on to our students. ...Academics, researchers, and particularly teachers need to move to the tools of the future. Artifacts belong in museums, not in our institutions of higher learning.
I could tell you what I'd write on a student paper that used (1) sweeping generalizations, (2) illogical leaps of reasoning, (3) irrational and pointless abuse of a perfectly reasonable technology--paper--as "old" and useless, and (4) a complete lack of evidence for the conclusions, but I guess I'd better get busy scanning my notes while I still can.


heu mihi said...

Ha ha! Thank you for this. I'm too sleepy at the moment to comment substantively, but I appreciate the mid-day laugh.

There's a point at which an argument becomes too silly to be offensive, isn't there? Oh, Chronicle! What *are* you up to, anyway?

undine said...

I think the Chronicle got tired of all the serious news and decided to put up this delicious target for us. It's a welcome present.