Despite my expectations, I found Sherman Young’s argument that the book, as we know it, is dead, rather persuasive. I was particularly interested by the idea that “the object of the book is not fixed and has always been evolving”. In fact, the chapter forced me to reconsider my initial reaction to the statement “the book is dead”, which, to be perfectly frank, was horror. I could barely imagine anything more frightening than a world in which books had been abandoned.

But are we already living in such a world? Young claims that we are. Even if no-one is burning books, hardly anyone is reading them, and although book sales are still high, he says that the industry has traded ‘real’ books for “fast-buck shifting of product”. I am familiar with the argument that we, as readers, have abandoned the book for less time consuming forms of entertainment, but I had not considered that the book market could be killing the book as well. Despite this bleak picture, Young does not see the death of the book as a bad thing.

In his book, Young qualifies his brutal catch-cry by suggesting that the replacement of the book is a necessary and inevitable step to ensure its survival. He hopes that new technologies will provide greater access to books, and allow what is inside books to become more valued. He even suggests that, in recent times, the important function of the book has been hijacked by the book as an object, to be marketed and sold. He believes that e-books have the potential to reclaim the essence of the book from the hands of publishers. Readers will not only have access to more books, but the internet can provide them the opportunity to engage with authors and other readers. Young claims that ideas should be more important than items.

Even with dwindling opportunities to do so, I still like to read. Not many people will disagree that having access to unfamiliar stories and ideas can not only take readers to new places, but also enrich their experience of the world. Young’s argument forced me to question whether this experience truly has anything to do with the actually physical object of the book. I’m sure many booklovers would find themselves reticent to let go of the paper book, and I feel the same. However, I am compelled to admit that this is largely an issue of sentimental value. There appears to be no practical reason why an e-book should be less effective than a paper book, and yet paper books have always played such a huge part of our intellectual experience and growth that to suggest that they could be obsolete seems preposterous.

When I considered the idea more carefully, I realised that I have already implicated myself in this seemingly criminal coup. After all, what do I do when I access the library’s online resources but pave the way for the paper book’s eventual demise? I am still enlightened and inspired by what I read online. I still appreciate the ideas presented. I don’t have to reserve the book for weeks, or carry it around campus. Aside from issues of practicality, the ecological significance of electronic media cannot be understated. It seems a crime in itself to consider rejecting emerging technologies on sentimental grounds, when adopting them could easily save millions of trees.

I doubt that the paper book will ever disappear entirely. Like trips to the cinema, CD collections and even old records, outmoded mediums will always be something of a novelty. I believe that this will be especially true for the paper book, not simply because of its historical importance, but also because of the sensory thrill, the material excitement that comes from holding a book in your hand. Similarly, the visual pleasure of cover art should not be dismissed. My prediction is that the paper book will remain an art form in itself.

The possibility of perpetuating and even increasing the popularity of the book medium by adapting it to modern technologies presents an overwhelmingly positive opportunity. To deny this would be to deny potential readers exposure to new ideas and stories. As Young argues, our greatest task is to keep the function of the book alive.

I welcome the evolution of the book.   

Mike Shatzkin presents his predictions for publishing in 2008 in Publisher’s Weekly.

Blogs discussing the death of the book can be found here.

I’ve never been very curious about my origins.

I feel slightly ashamed to write this, although I’m not sure why I should. I think it has something to do with the romantic notion of ‘knowing who I am’. It seems ignorant to know nothing about my roots. In truth, my origins seem so vague and intangible that it’s hard to summon much enthusiasm. My ancestors were mostly Irish, my parents tell me. And Welsh. Some Scandinavian, perhaps, but this is less certain.

I can say with confidence that I was born in Australia. My passport and drivers licence clearly state that I am an Australian citizen. Despite this, whenever discussions about nationality take place, I am left feeling faintly uncomfortable. This puzzling feeling surfaced again during my recent trip to Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. However, by the time I left, the reasons for my unease had become much clearer to me.

The definition of nationality implies that there is something fundamental that I share with my compatriots, so I ask myself, what do I share with my fellow Australians? The Immigration Museum clearly illustrates the fact that, as a people, we do not share any common history or traditions. Can it be that there is a way of life to which we all aspire? I’m sure that this can be debated, but to me it would seem not. When I think of the Australian people, the sense of having no ties of any significance that unites us creates a feeling of isolation and alienation that I find difficult to dispel.

This anxiety in regards to Australian identity has been characterised throughout Australia’s history by a great ambivalence towards immigration. Successive waves of immigration have created the powerful but ill-defined notion of the ‘other’; immigrants or ‘aliens’ which have often been excluded or marginalised.  During the 19th Century, immigrants were predominantly European, and restrictions were placed on Chinese immigration. These restrictions were symptomatic of ongoing fears about Asian immigration, and arguably indicate the beginnings of the White Australia Policy, which was to remain a cornerstone of Australian immigration policy for almost a century. In the 20th Century, wartime concerns prompted the regulation of German, Austrian and Italian immigrants. Japan’s involvement in the Second World War reinforced the White Australia Policy. Following the war, Australia was met with a flood of European immigrants. However, during the 60s and 70s, the White Australia Policy was gradually dismantled, prompting a significant increase in non-European immigration. Then in 1992, the High Court of Australia ruled that native title exists over particular kinds of lands, and that Australia was never terra nullius. This decision drew new attention to the question of Australian identity and immigration. It highlighted the fact that early European settlers were simply the first wave of immigrants to Australia’s shores.

It seems that the concept of the ‘other’ has shifted throughout Australian history, often in parallel with the racist attitudes, political interests and domestic concerns of the times. The importance of historical context in defining immigration policies is illustrated by the Museum exhibit, Getting In, which allowed me to understand the significant impact these policies had in shaping the population, and how they reflected public consciousness over time.  The Immigration Museum allowed me to explore the course of Australian identity throughout its development into a versatile and intricate concept.

In 2006 the Australian census revealed that of a population of around 20 million people, 24% were born overseas, and 45% have either been born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population accounts for only 2.5% of the Australian people.  Australian identity, rather than being somehow distinct from that of ‘aliens’ or ‘others’, has evidently been characterised and defined by more than two centuries of immigration.

This was my realisation as I left the Immigration Museum, and although it has always been known to me that we are a multicultural nation, it never dawned on me that, free from the limitations of other perceived ‘Australian values’, diversity is something that we all share. It is this aspect of Australian identity that I am happy to embrace.

On that note, make sure you check out Cultural Diversity Week.

Cultural Diversity Week