Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

A problem with digital books

A bookshelf full of books
(Image credit: Harold Bakker)

When I was growing up, my house had a 50 foot wall full of books which our family had inherited from my grandfather with the house. Whenever I was bored, and the weather was ugly, I would pick a book off the shelf and read it. I devoured books from the shelves, some of which were probably inappropriate for my age, and some of which are considered classics. The library available in my home helped me become a better reader because I never ran out of something to read.

This is an experience my son has now, because we have a library of books in his room (albeit a much smaller library). However, as books become digital, it will be much more difficult for our library to be visible and accessible to my son. Parents will tend to make more choices of what their children should read. Licensing on books that prevents them from being copied means that children will likely have to explicitly ask for permission for every book that they read from their parent’s collection. Books will be selected less at random, and because we will be more likely to select books entirely based on our own interests, we will be less likely to be exposed to new information. Note that it would be relatively straight forward to set up "book servers" in houses that could act as personal libraries, and serve the same function, but current digital rights management on books makes this impractical (not impossible, every DRM has its weaknesses).

We are headed toward a society where books are not visible and accessible in our houses. If the books are invisible, they might as well not be there.