5 Myths About the ‘Information Age’ – Robert Darnton – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Not much I can argue with here.  I do think his five points have a bit of the straw man to them, but not dramatically so.  My comments, point by point:

  1. We need better statistics and a few more years perspective, but my guess is the trend go forward will be for less printed books.  It’s a bit early in the eBook market lifecycle to be as certain as Darnton seems to be–it’s like saying CD sales would continue to increase when the iPod had only been out for a couple years.  These shifts take awhile to ripple through the system.
  2. “Digital Age” is probably a more accurate label but this point is a bit nit-picky, anyway.  Labels are always literally true but they can still be representative.  Scholars don’t get to pick what label sticks with the larger population.
  3. Two bad assumptions in Darnton’s statement about Google Books–he assumes that the next 15 million digitizations will be as hard as the first 15 million.  But getting off the ground is the hardest part–it will only become cheaper and easy to do this going forward.  As for the “million new works a year”–how many of them won’t first exist as a digital file before being printed.  With new works, you only need to preserve the digital original, not waste money redigitizing.
  4. No argument here.  But the perception that libraries are obsolete is dangerous and can’t be hand-waved away.
  5. Great points, but it should be noticed that while the new modes of communication Darnton mentions didn’t kill their predecessors, they did shift them from primary to secondary importance.  Also, the effect is cumulative–radio didn’t make newspapers extinct, but the next big wave, TV, hurt both radio and newspapers.  And the Internet is displacing (or enveloping) all three, with newspapers hardest hit.

5 Myths About the ‘Information Age’ – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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