Is Digital Democratic?

images.jpgFOR SEVERAL DECADES, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic.

In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it. …

This article in Wired Magazine  by Brian Barrett develops and comments on the recent transformation of school textbooks.

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A 451 moment

Over on another weblog there has been a lengthy and highly repetition discussion of gentle, kind, but smelly books made of paper and evil digital books that will ruin your eyes but are handy for traveling, at least until the subliminal terrorist messages kick in and turn you into the Manchurian Candidate. The pros and cons are many, quite obvious, and will never eliminate the dialogue. My favorite reason for preferring either format is that books smell so good. Now I am intrigued by the smell of an old-fashined dairy farm and all those cows and all that hay and you finish the series, but I don’t want one to move next to my little shack in the swamp. I wish to suggest a positive attribute of digital books:  they don’t smell!

But the wildest reasoning I ran across was the suggestion that if civilization no longer had electricity, the digital books would be worthless whereas paper books would always be available. Now, if the intention was to project a major power outage that exceeded two or three days, then I agree, since the digital book might require recharging, it would be nice to have an old-fashioned paper book on hand (I have about a thousand) … but only in the daytime since paper books are seldom back-lit and are difficult to read in the dark.

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If you use anything other than Calibre for the Mac to organize, share, convert, and even read your digital books, check out the web site and seriously consider taking the plunge and trying Calibre for free … in fact, other than a donation, you can use Calibre without providing the developers any monetary compensation (although how could you live with the shame).

Also note that Calibre interfaces with iTunes and provides a path to transfer (and convert if necessary) any books from the internet into iTunes and, of course, then onto your iPad or iPod. Having accumulated a large library of eBooks in PDB format for the old Palm (Pilot), I found it very convenient to transfer the old files into this application which automatically performs the required file conversions before sending them on to other devices. It’s not perfect but it is the Swiss Army Knife of eBooks. Who knows, with the help of Calibre you just might learn to enjoy the convenience of digital books … I am finding them more and more appealing and the extra space on my bookshelves now leaves me room for my collection of vintage dust bunnies.