15 November 2010

How the E-Book Saved Civilisation

Many of you may be familiar with the story of how the Irish monks and scribes saved civilisation from the dark ages, by way of their scrupulous record-keeping and manuscript copying. Others may remember how an astrophysicist saved civilisation in the book "Lucifer's Hammer," by carefully storing hundreds of important books in an underground cache in the hillside above his house.

The world of books and manuscripts has changed since the Dark Ages -- even since the science fiction world of Pournelle and Niven's Lucifer's Hammer. Now we have e-books, which may have an important role to play in saving civilisation all over again.

US ebook sales are headed for $1 billion in 2011. The NYTimes is to begin publishing e-book bestseller lists next year. Librarians are beginning to help clients download library ebooks onto their personal devices. E-books are beginning to go multi-media, for a more varied and potentially intense reading experience. And just in time for the 2010 holiday sales season. A number of blogs and websites have sprung up to assist readers in keeping up with ebook and ebook reader trends, including teleread and good ereader.

The dream of ebook visionaries is to be able to carry the Library of Congress inside an ebook reader the size of a Kindle. As memory and storage continue to shrink, that dream is becoming much less wacky than it once would have been. With the assistance of solar re-charging, long-lasting batteries (with ample spares) and advanced power management tools, a sophisticated survivalist may well be able to store most of the relevant knowledge and history of civilisation through even an extended coming anarchy or dark age.

Consumer Reports recently ranked the Kindle 3G as the best of the readers, although the new Sony reader is supposed to offer some features that surpass the Kindle. More on the Kindle 3G:
All-New, High-Contrast E Ink Screen – 50% better contrast
Read in Bright Sunlight – No glare
New and Improved Fonts – New crisper, darker fonts
New Sleek Design – 21% smaller body while keeping the same 6" size reading area
15% Lighter – Only 8.7 ounces, weighs less than a paperback
Battery Life of One Month – A single charge lasts up to one month with wireless off
Double the Storage – Up to 3,500 books
Books in 60 Seconds – Download books anytime, anywhere
Free 3G Wireless – No monthly payments, no annual contracts
Built-In Wi-Fi – In addition to the 3G wireless, you can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots
20% Faster Page Turns – Seamless reading
Enhanced PDF Reader – With dictionary lookup, notes, and highlights
New WebKit-Based Browser – Free 3G web browsing (experimental) _Amazon
3500 books is not quite the US Library of Congress, of course, but if you are selective you should be able to store a fairly solid start to a new technological civilisation. And as memory and storage sizes are reduced, you will be able to store that many more thousands of additional books. Be sure to store your ebook cache in a protected environment from fire, shock, EMP, water, heat, chemicals, theft, and other environmental and human-caused damage. Store your springboards to new civilisations where the brown-shirted book burners and dieoff.org Luddites of the far left and far right will never find them.


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Blogger Bruce Hall said...

eBooks are not immune from EMP unless shielded. Who is keeping theirs in a Faraday cage?

Tuesday, 16 November, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

The only ones who might keep their ebook readers in a Faraday cage, would be those who are thinking in terms of saving civilisation. Very few indeed.

The article recommends protective storage against EMP, so it is (we are) assuming that Al Fin readers are advanced enough to know how to go about it.

Ebook readers full of Paul Krugman, Al Gore, and Karl Marx writings are likely to fry. ;-)

Tuesday, 16 November, 2010  
Blogger LarryD said...

Flash memory is dense, but it requires a sophisticated device to read. Real collapse-proof archival storage needs to be readable with nothing more complicated than eyes and a light source.

Books printed on acid-free paper are still hard to beat.

Tuesday, 16 November, 2010  
Blogger Loren said...

Most readers out there are not suitable for such a purpose:

--They are too small. Try looking at a detailed diagram on a screen the size of a Kindle. Sure, you can zoom in, but this limits the context.

--They're too pricy. Half of this is the wireless connections and other doodads they feel they need.

--DRM among other things limits access on the libraries Amazon and others set up, and file format restrictions do the rest.

The reader I want, and would be best suited for this purpose, would be larger, with say a 10" screen. There would be no format limits--PDF and TXT files could be read, as well as JPGs and the like. You'd probably download a module from Amazon so you can use their formats if you like. A USB host port would allow the use of thumb drives, as well as things like reading lights. An alternate, more expensive model would have a screen that takes touch or a stylus, this would allow you to write in it too, since knowledge will not stop being discovered just because this civilization ended.

Of course, this can't beat paper archives for usability under adverse conditions.

Tuesday, 16 November, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

We are all hoping for solar powered nano-molecular fabricators, which can keep any technology alive we might wish. Such fabs could also accept novel input for new, innovative technologies on the fly.

Once that kind of technology is widely disseminated, it will be difficult to kill it.

In the meantime, we have a wide variety of storage media at our disposal, should we wish to maintain a personal or small community information depot for potential technology rebuilding, post-collapse.

Then there is always the sheepskin, primitive inks, and feather quill.

Thursday, 18 November, 2010  

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