The Growth of Online Publishing, the Death of Print, and the Future of Information Access
As books move more and more toward electronic platforms there is an inevitable decline in books being printed in traditional paper format. This is due largely to the reduced cost of the E-format and increased reach of E-books via the internet and third party devices (iPad, kindle, etc.) as well as a general advancement towards 'greener' products and production. With a reduction in waste all around, and the ability to reach audiences around the world with nothing more then an upload to Amazon, it’s no wonder publishers small and large not only capitalized on E-books by offering them as an alternative to their paperback and hardcover releases, but it follows that some publishers will begin taking it a step further by omitting physical books completely.
With the ability to write anything from a short story or children's book to an spontaneously inspired thesis or full novel, and then put that content in the reach of anyone with an internet connection, comes the motivation and possibility of any and every average joe to self-publish from their basement and gain an audience for their content with almost zero cost for distribution. Now I won’t go into the kind of clutter that is created in the online world of self-published material, rather I’d like to focus on the possibility of non-average joe’s that are committing more and more to the E format and leaving paper distribution more and more a thing of the past.
While it’s difficult to argue how overall beneficial E-books and information digitization in general is for all those involved (in terms of accessibility and lower cost for both big companies and self-published writers as well as the environmental benefits), to completely and utterly abolish of physical text and volumes just never felt right to me, and until recently I could not figure out why. The benefits are obvious, but I had the sneaking suspicion that someone was being left behind; that through the obvious economic and self-empowering progress of it all, real people were getting the short end of the stick.
This revelation (and the cause behind my uneasiness) came while I read about Google’s unveiling of its television and internet service in Kansas City. The service offers an exceptionally fast internet option based on Google’s own fiber technology, and even more surprising, a free internet option for anyone in the area who requires it (aside from a $300.00 installation fee). Kansas City was selected after months of bidding by multiple cities spanning the country in an attempt to woo Google to their town and be the first to have access to the brand new service. The free internet service will be provided to anyone within the service's range (this is new after all, however it's my opinion that Kansas will act as a testing ground for what will eventually be a service offered nationwide and, possibly, internationally) that wants it, while the much hyped about 1 gigabyte per second speeds will be offered for $70.00 a month.
I was blown away by this news and the possibilities this could mean for underdeveloped and economically depressed cities and countries, while at the same my uneasiness towards the ever-impending digital overtaking of our daily lives became clear -- just how many people are without internet service and just how much information is available solely on the World Wide Web? Nowadays, with the popularity of smart devices and tablets it’s easy to forget that while the US is responsible 12% (3rd behind Asia and Europe) of the world’s total internet use. And 30% of the its citizens still don’t have access to the internet while many people worldwide also have no home or implicit access to a computer or internet browser, much less a smartphone or an ipad. This opened my eyes to a stunning irony, the more accessible products and services become via the internet, the less available they become to those without internet access. To look at a bigger picture, even the green movement which aims for cleaner and more environmentally friendly ways of crafting goods and services puts those same goods and services further out of reach of those less fortunate given their higher prices. So at what cost does our increased use of the internet for communication and information storage amount to? Books are a prime example of information that that is slowly moving off of the shelves and onto your nearest smart device. By the time this is written there are thousands of books available solely online that anyone without access to the internet will, realistically, never see. That’s a huge amount of information that reaches hundreds of millions of people, and millions more without the slightest clue the information exist. The real problem stems from a lack of affordable internet rather than lack of infrastructure (at least concerning North America which is constantly expanding. Countries outside of the US such as India and much of the underdeveloped east still requires huge investments in infrastructure in general).
The internet is overflowing with pools of information, possibilities, and tools waiting to be utilized and explored. And as we continue to advance on all fronts of technology it’s becoming crucial that minds, old and young, can comprehend and understand how to navigate the web, as well as having reliable access to it. And this is worldwide, not just the US. The library -- a long standing monument of free access to information -- is one of the few remaining places someone in the states can have access to books and information, but combine every library in the world and its still not comparable to the web and its vast storage nor the way it outpaces and out dates every other form of media with instantaneously on all things imaginable.
The internet is a global resource on topics of every variety and communication in every time-zone. It bridges gaps that geography creates and forms connections that years ago would be dismissed as impossible, but we cannot forget those that are still without access. The human race is advancing at an incredible pace and every person and child left without proper utilities, accessibility and opportunity represents an untapped mind of immeasurable potential and a failure by our society to keep pace with the needs of our species.
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