To be honest, I don’t really have much to say about Justin Hollander’s anti-ebooks op-ed that showed up in the New York Times on Tuesday. But because its main focus was Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s recent proclamation that “over the next few years, [paper] textbooks should be obsolete,” I figured it was an essay the e-book community should probably pay attention to.
Hollander is an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, and to be fair, his piece isn’t necessarily anti-ebooks per se. Instead, he’s arguing for the superiority of paper textbooks over their digital cousins.
“Digital-learning technologies, like e-readers and multimedia Web sites … certainly have their place,” Hollander writes. “But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet. And while e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous.”
I’d say it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that digital books are “still unproven.” But ultimately, Hollander’s essay makes a good (if cliched and overused) point: When advancements in new technologies lead us to discard the old ways of doing things, we often come to regret it. And while Hoffman probably is guilty of making way too much out of a couple sentences uttered at a press club, the point he makes may eventually lead to a conversation that’s very much worth having. As the omnipresence of e-books continues to grow and grow, for instance, perhaps we should be having more conversations about the importance of “good old paper.”
I don’t know. What do you think?
* * *