The Transient Nature Of Digital Text

letters in stoneNicholas Carr believes digital publishing tools are ushering in an era of perpetual revisions and updating. Literary works and essays once synonymous with a ‘set in stone’ sense of permanence are now, as Carr puts it, losing their ‘fixity’ in the digital space.

The e-book industry’s embrace of cloud-based technologies, for example Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service, means book authors, once accustomed to a publish-and-leave-it process (or at least until subsequent book editions are released) can now upload edits to their manuscripts indefinitely—and immediately—when the desire hits:

Once digitized, a page of words loses its fixity. It can change every time it’s refreshed on a screen. A book page turns into something like a Web page, able to be revised endlessly after its initial uploading. There’s no technological constraint on perpetual editing, and the cost of altering digital text is basically zero. As electronic books push paper ones aside, movable type seems fated to be replaced by movable text.

Bloggers, in particular, intuitively know the power (and perhaps drawbacks) of being able to constantly rewrite, edit and tweak written posts on a whim. The book publishing industry though, still seems to be coming to terms with the inherently transient nature of the digital format. While individual authors may feel a sense of empowerment with fewer obstacles in place to getting their works in front of readers, publishers will perhaps regard the waning market for paper books as a disruptive and unavoidable phase in the evolution of the book publishing industry.

(Photo credit: myfear)