The future of the printed word

First aired on Ottawa Morning (28/11/11)

Argentine-born writer and translator Alberto Manguel loves books. Really loves them. In fact, he owns 40,000 titles in his personal library, collected in the course of his travels around the world. And while the rapid growth of digital publishing, tablets and on-demand video has led us to debate the future of the written and printed word, Manguel believes that paper books won't soon disappear.

alberto-manguel.jpg"The container of the text has changed since the invention of writing," Manguel told CBC's Ottawa Morning recently. "We used to have our books on little clay tablets, and then on rolls of papyrus, then on parchment pages and so on. The container has changed and will continue to change. It would be naïve to think that the electronic book is the last incarnation of the book. My great-grandchildren will look at the electronic book and say 'What in the world is that thing? Why are you still using that, now we have...' whatever it is that will come next."

Manguel, who was in the city to speak at the Ottawa Public Library Foundation gala this week, believes that digital books will never completely take the place of printed books, but says it's important for people to understand how they can co-exist and enrich the experience of reading.

"The shelf of the human imagination is so vast that it can share all different kinds of gadgets and technologies. The danger lies when the choice of the technology is not ours, but it's imposed on us for economic or political reasons. The danger lies when we don't know how to use one instrument and only use another. It's as if we could only fly planes but didn't know how to ride a bicycle any longer."

How many books are in your collection? Do you believe that digital books will co-exist with printed books, or will paper books be largely replaced? Let us know in the comments section below.

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