While skimming through my RSS feed this morning, I ran across Scott Greenfield’s post called “This (pointing) Is A Book”. Scott discusses the issue of libraries slowly disappearing and being replaced by technology like the Kindle. He also mentions that the Millennial Generation has a general distaste for physical books, that this is a major flaw in their development, and that those that have electronic collections rather than books have no soul.
I don’t know, Scott… a lot of the books I have on my shelf, I “intend” to read some day (especially those from the Dalai Lama and former Presidents), whereas all of the books I have in my Kindle I “have” read. Don’t get me wrong, as a librarian and a GenX’er, I do appreciate personal library collections, but I’ve found that many (especially people with large personal collections) view their libraries as piece of art rather than information resources. Judging a person’s soul by the library they collect is like judging how good a lawyer is by the suit they wear to court.
Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, told a story at the TEDxTO conference last week about his meeting a Rhodes Scholar from Florida who told a panel of University Presidents that he “doesn’t read books.” Although, this was a gross overstatement (he ‘skims’ books by using sources like Google Books to find the core information, or he flips back and forth from the index to portions of the book to glean the relevant information… or as we call it in academia — “Research.”)
The language of information is changing and Don Tapscott refers to this as Generation Lap where the way information is being created and distributed is changing. It is similar to children of immigrants who learn the language before their parents. So, when you see statements like Mary Grabar’s saying that Millennials made comments like “the teacher thought she knew more than the students,” you have to think of it in the same way that the immigrant children who think they know more “about the new language” than their parents. If you take the comment with that background, the statement isn’t as asinine as it seems on the surface.
Take a look at Don Tapscott’s interview about the “Grown Up Digital” generation and I think you’ll gain a better appreciation of what really is the good and bad about how this generation learns and contributes. Those that you are categorizing as “Slackoisie” may be reading, learning, understanding, and contributing more than you give them credit.
  • “For all their cost disadvantages, dead trees smeared into sheets still have excellent battery life, screen resolution, and portability, to say nothing about looking lovely on shelves.”

    – By Chris Anderson in Free

  • That is an excellent argument if you are celebrating a book as an artifact, not as a purveyor of information. Each format has its advantages, but I'm pretty sure that the physical beauty of a book does very little to enhance the information being supplied.

  • Anonymous

    Your "suit" analogy is a poor one – both do tell you something about the person's soul, because they speak to what the individual values.

    Moreover, I would NEVER hire a lawyer who chooses cheap suits. It suggests he either doesn't have the money to be able to afford quality, or he isn't able to appreciate quality and detail, and if he can't pay attention to those little things, he can scarcely be expected to pay attention to the big things, like the fine distinctions upon which a winning argument often turns.

  • So, to take your argument to extremes (which I love to do…) why don't we just have the lawyers show up with the receipts for their suits and whoever has the more expensive suit wins? I'm sure you've read this post where the defense lawyer purposely wears a cheap suit and shoes with holes in them. Apparently, he's a pretty fine defense attorney.

    Again, I'm not saying that having a great personal library is a bad thing. In fact, it is a great thing. What I am saying is that a great library, in and of itself, is does not a great person make. Knowledge is gained on many levels… print, electronic, personal interaction, and deeds performed. Scott Greenfield writes excellent articles, and they would be excellent if they were on a printed page or on a computer monitor.

    My counter to the "lack of library = lack of soul" argument is that it is a shallow person that judges another by the material possessions they collect.

  • Jim

    The weakness of this position is that it confuses information with knowledge. People who use books only to get sound bites are indeed probably well served by electronic media, but they cannot claim to have understood the author's arguments, which took the whole book. Ripping things out of context may tell you what you want to hear, but not what the author intended to say. What you describe is not "research," but more usually post facto citation hunting to locate sources that support conclusions you're already reached. As for the way in which millennials believe believe everyone's opinion is as valid as anyone else's, see Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture," which describes well the death of respect for expertise.

  • Good point, Jim. My explaination may be flawed, but the example I pointed to is a Rhodes Scholar now getting his Masters at Oxford. He seems to be doing something right. This article does a somewhat better job of explaining his research method.

    The problem with books like Keen's and statements like Greenfield's is that what made us experts, or successful, or impressed our friends and peers isn't the only model that exists. But calling people souless or amateurs because they don't follow the instructions we've laid out for them on how to be "successful like us" is just plain petty.

    Somewhere there is a balance between leveraging the experience and knowledge of the GenX/Boomers with the creativity and skills that the Millenials bring to the table.

  • shg

    "but I've found that many (especially people with large personal collections) view their libraries as piece of art rather than information resources."

    Maybe you need to hang out with different people. Or maybe the libraries are art, as well as information resources. Or maybe your reduction of books to "information resources" betrays the Slackoisie lack of appreciation of what books offer.

  • "There's only one thing that can be learned about a person if all those books are replaced by Kindle. They have no soul."
    Books can be beautiful pieces of art as well as great purveyors of information. But, just like vinyl records can produce sounds better than a compact disc recording, doesn't mean that my soul is tarnished because I prefer the convenience of a CD. The Slackoisie's lack of appreciation comes from a different life experience than you or I had. It doesn't mean that they are right, it doesn't mean they are wrong… it just means they view things a little bit differently. You can shake your fist at them and stop the conversation, or you can engage them in meaningful conversation of how books are more than the information printed on the page.