Virtually Permanent vs. A Fragile Reality
There is something so impermanent but, at the same time ultra-permanent about the virtual world. I know you’ve heard my lament and fear of the loss of books as object of reverence and worth, the world of virtual books does not include precious copies, signed, first editions, or otherwise special. This, too, begs the question of permanence and value.
When the world was full of paper, a book was an object. Yes, we have the Kindle and its cousins and, yes, we can hold the object we read, but within that object there can be, virtually, two hundred books. And they can, given the right glitch, vanish without a trace.
When we had actual books, we could touch and feel them. They existed. And they existed in the real world, sometimes for generations. There was permanence to them. But, at the same time, they were fragile. The burning of the library in Alexandria taught us that ages ago. But having something in your hand, having a book, gives the feeling that you are holding something that might even outlive you.
A virtual book does not give the same impression of permanence. A book signed by the author made it more valuable. Though there are ideas for e-books to be ‘signed’ (printing a mock cover or a card with the cover image to sign, for example) but that e-book will not become more precious to anyone. It will not sit in a glass box in a museum hundreds of years from now. It is ephemeral. It almost doesn’t exist, except in the ether. And, as much as it is on your screen, it can disappear. Yes, unlike a book in the hand, the ether tends to hold things for longer than some of us would like. Unless the book is in manuscript form and exists only on your screen, the chances are that versions of it will exist, floating in the virtual world, until the virtual world is no longer. So, as vague and unreal as a virtual book might seem, it might outlast the very thing that it reflects. The e-book is a shadow that remains when the pages have turned to ash.