Bill Gates on books: The final chapter is near

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According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bill Gates recently said, “Reading is going to go completely online.” Then he backed it up with a rather idealistic vision of the future of print. Jeff Gomez, the blogger and author behind Print is Dead, and Stephen Baker of Business Week both had a great take on Bill’s prognosticating.

I remember thinking — way back in the 90s — that nobody is ever going to curl up in bed with a clunky laptop and read it like a book. Then I got my tiny 12 inch Powerbook. Still, reading on it just isn’t the same. A real paper novel demands my attention. It makes me commit. I can’t email, work, shop, and read; with a book, I can only read.

Can you picture life without books or newspapers? Can you imagine reading Pat the Bunny or Green Eggs and Ham to your kids … from a laptop? What do you think of Bill’s take on the future?

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  1. To me, the most valuable objects are photo books. I have not a clue about what will happen to reading but I am dead certain that the experience of looking at images in books cannot be replicated online.

      May 15, 2007 – 9:55 am   Permalink
  2. With online reading on laptops, we need not carry the load of books wherever we go.

    You have all the books on the laptop ready to read and browse at your convenient time and place.

    Bhasker Raj

      May 15, 2007 – 7:32 pm   Permalink
  3. I believe the technology threat exists more for magazines and newspapers than books. And even then, portability and low cost are still real issues. Most people won’t carry their laptops all the places they would take a $5 magazine.

    Gates is a firm believer in tablet PCs and the “ultra mobile” PCs–neither of which are gaining much ground in the marketplace. Books will be around for a long while.

      May 16, 2007 – 6:40 am   Permalink
  4. I’m not sure why anyone takes Bill Gates’s opinions about things beyond computing seriously. He is often wrong (“no one will care about the free Internet – they’d much rather be charged for a subset of it controlled by Microsoft”), and he regularly makes the mistake of regarding himself as a typical user with typical behaviours and desires, when he clearly is no such thing.

    There’s a level of technology that is appropriate for a job, and once that level has been reached it is really hard to displace. Why aren’t we all running around in indestructible silver foil jumpsuits, as we were promised in the 1960s? Because socks and trousers and shirts work well enough. Why aren’t we having meals in pill form? Because food isn’t just fuel – and eating is a pleasure, and a time to share with others, and a ritual, and and and…

    Electronic books may well become a useful way to have a lot of information resources to hand. But I find it hard to believe that anyone will pick up an ebook and ‘thumb’ lovingly through a download given by a loved one, or buy lots of ebooks that they never read, just to have them to hand – as many book buyers do with physical books. And I can’t imagine anyone ever settling down in their home server room with a good download, as they might now in a study, library or den with a physical book.

    Before you take Gates’s word for anything outside computing, ask yourself: is he like the rest of us, or are his interests, outlook and present state skewed away from the norm in this context? If the answer’s no – move on, don’t worry – like as not he will be wrong.

    By Luke Collins
      May 16, 2007 – 9:27 am   Permalink

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