Escaping the Cave

Rather more often than I would have expected when I started doing this, I find the software testing blogs I read cross-pollinating my observations about writing in general and the industry. I ran across one of them today, talking about Plato’s Cave and how the allegory applies to software teams in the industry, particularly the tendency of those who have been in the “cave” for a long time to fight against any suggestion that there might be another way.

Well, gosh. That sounds awfully like some publishers we all know, the ones who insist that ebooks are a passing fad (one which has outlasted at least two generations of devices, possibly more), and that hardcopy print will be around forever.

To be fair, while hardcopy may not be around forever forever, some form of physical book is going to be around for a good long time. There’s not much that tops the pleasure of looking at really high-quality edition of something – one of my treasures is my commemorative edition of Lord of the Rings – but when it comes to popcorn reading or general stuff, the convenience of ebooks can’t be beaten.

Personally, I expect to see ebooks become the primary source of fiction in the next 10 years or so, and make inroads into general non-fiction. Coffee-table books will still happen, and children’s books with interesting texture (as well as books that can withstand the attentions of a teething child and books intended to be read to a child or read with a child), and of course the kind of non-fiction book that involves precisely laid-out tables is still having issues moving to digital.

My guess is that in the next 20 years or so, physical books will be back to being prestige items, purchased primarily for future heirloom value, or as keepsakes (I will note that my Pratchett collection will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands, and the bastard who tries to steal it from me had better hope he, she, or it is immortal, because those books mean that much to me). For actual reading, computers, phones, and tablets will be the thing. It’s already almost viable to read novels on a phone, and screen quality just keeps getting better.

Of course, that’s for those of us outside the cave. The poor cave denizens seem to be stuck on trying to steal each others’ ever-dwindling supply of foodahem, readers while loudly proclaiming that their world is all their is and anyone who says otherwise is a dirty liar, and possibly also a Nazi (although this accusation seems to be dying rather faster than the previous favorite, being a racist).

Honestly, I’d wonder about their sanity except that I know full well they haven’t any, having bartered it along with what passes for their souls for a hint of faux-prestige. See, the thing about artificial environments like this is that the people who thrive in them – at least that I’ve seen – are typically rather… mediocre at best. And, as always when the stakes are miniscule but involve a lot of egoboo, the infighting is vicious.

Those who have noticed the resemblance to teenage girls in catfights, yeah, exactly. See, while they’re backstabbing each other in their bid to be the supreme muckety-muck of the cave, the guards (those with real power) don’t have to worry too much about them escaping. Heck, they’ll fight to keep the other inmates trapped with them and claim it’s the best place ever.

Me, I’ll take my chances in the dangerous world outside the cave, no matter how scary it might be.


  1. I don’t know exactly why, but I found this analogy as humorous as it is apt. I’d really, really hate to have any significant skin in the dead tree game, either as a publisher or a vendor. Maybe as a small, indie, rare book/internet cafe in an area frequented by tourists that don’t want to subject their laptop to the tender mercies of the NSA ?

  2. I’d like to think that physical books will still exist as long as humans are still human. They have one big advantage over e-books: much harder to erase.

  3. It’s much nicer to browse a bookshelf than a list.
    I have a ridiculous amount of “what is this, and why did I buy it” on my kindle. I am actually interested (because I’m a cheapskate who budgets entertainment expenses, and who likes to save up for toys), but there’s a decided lack of context. A lot of the time, even basic genre and tone aren’t readily apparent. It’s actually better to pull up the app on my phone, browse my library there, then use my e-reader. (Which will often have lost its charge from me forgetting to turn off wireless.)

  4. Somehow I don’t think _Pat the Bunny_ would do well as an e-book. 🙂 But yes, I’m at the point where I pretty much buy fun reads and even some one-shot research reads as e-books (rental FTW!), and only multi-use academic monographs and histories in print. I like print books, and I annotate the daylights out of my print books, but for weight, and ease of quick-reading, and portability? Yeah.

    I wonder now about academic monographs. Since university libraries seem to be turning into glorified computer labs in many cases, how much longer will academic presses be with us? They tend to run at a loss in many cases as it is.

    1. *has a minor dream of the academic presses getting a brain and offering 2.99 ebooks*

      People would buy them just for the warm glow.

      1. College profs have no financial incentive to obsolete the racket of requiring their own book for a class, and letting the college bookstore sell that text at ridic prices, earning bonus bucks on every student enrolled. Making minor changes every few years, and requiring the latest edition limits the revenue damage from resold texts on the used market. Academia is such a racket.

  5. Racist, Nazi, both were used to death by poop flinging brats with not a clue as to their true historical significance. They were simply shouted out against anyone who did not totally agree with whatever cause celeb was the current hot button. A true schoolyard tactic, and grade school at that.
    And it seems that the new disparagement of choice is to call you a person of privilege. Does not matter in the slightest how hard you had to work to get to whatever level of success you happen to enjoy, “you didn’t build that” as some long forgotten slimy politician was wont to declare. So obviously you had to have stolen what you have from some poor, less privileged, but more deserving folk. And really it’s all just a noble excuse for progressive socialists to take what you have and give some of it to whomever they decide “deserves” it while always skimming the cream for themselves having earned their reward through their massively superior virtue.

    1. Don’t forget “living on stolen land.” Which effectively makes me homeless, since my largest demographical dollop via my father has that side of the family moving to America after their country was effectively dissolved by the rest of Europe. (Yeah, it’s back now, but there’s been several discontinuities along the way. Not that I really have any ties there. I think I’ve mentioned before that my maiden name is rare enough to be measured in the low three digits worldwide.)

  6. Interestingly enough, ebooks have opened up a new type of children’s book– as much a different type as the “touch and see” ones, and the folks who seem best at it are the Bearinstains. It’s basically just a digital version of the old paper books’ pictures with the exact same text put in as suited to the format, and the first page has three options: read, read as you go, and read to me.

    Read is for someone to just read the book.

    Read as you go will read the page as you “turn” them, and you can make it read again. (I am actually not sure how, the two year old won’t let me have the kids’ kindle long enough to fiddle with it and find out. I am only allowed when it needs trouble shooting. 😉 )

    And “read to me,” of course, reads the whole story in a well narrated way and at a good pace.

    They’ll talk with me about the books, they still go for the paper books, and they’ll pick the book on their own over the various games on the thing, so that’s pretty dang impressive.

    1. My granddaughter is IN LURVVE with Dr. Seuss, who has several books presented in the exact same triple play format. I got her a Fire in a “kid-proof” case for Xmas when she was almost one, though the Amazon folks said she was she was a few years too young for a tablet by herself. They forgot to tell her though.

      She has also retained a love for actual “book books” though.

      1. I finally figured out why they’re trying so hard to blame everything on “screen time”– when I was tiny, it was TV. When I was in high school, it was computers. Now, it’s tablets and such….

        But this is when they’ve been doing “improvements” in education, mostly removing memorization and such.

        And screens are about the only place that you’re going to get a chance to hear the same fun song 47zillion times, or other things that kids love.

        The problem isn’t “screen time,” it’s what else is going on.

        1. Is good.
          But give not to autistic child.
          Can vouch.

          There is also a sequel, with narration by Elmo for extra cringe.

  7. My son gave me a high quality hardbound of Azimov’s Foundation trilogy. Which I’d read when each part came out. Some was better than I remembered, and some wasn’t.

  8. I’m somewhat miffed about the quality of some of the shadows on the wall lately. I demand better of my Platonic cave.

    1. It’s the twisty lightbulbs. Just wait for them to warm up – or replace them with LEDs, but don’t drop the twisties; you don’t want mercury on the cave floor.

    2. My cave is quite comfortable. It even has internet service. 😀

        1. As a Dragon, I am self-managed and have no Dragon employees.

          Now, I do have some help around my cave and they don’t complain (or have reason to complain) about their pay. 😀

  9. Years ago I wrote a piece called “Tell Me a Story” which told the story of how a children’s book was reinterpreted by successive generations of children as humanity settled ever further out into space. It appeared in an anthology put out by a small press in the UK. One of these days I need to double check my contract wrt reprints and see about getting it up as a KDP ebook.

  10. > forever forever

    Proper books are incised on clay tablets. Parchment or papyrus will get eaten by insects or rot if they get wet.

    Proper books are lettered and illuminated by hand. These machine-printed books, the letters are ugly and don’t line up right. Who’d want trash like that?

    People just read books and throw them away, so cheap acid paper that turns brown and disintegrates after five or ten years is perfectly acceptable.

    Those e-books were a fad like pet rocks and hula hoops, and that fad has passed…

  11. Look at what is happening with music formats. We’ve gone through tapes, to CD’s, to digital, to a mix of both digital and LP’s. Digital via Pandora or ITunes, and LP’s for the stuff one really wants to make the effort to listen to, or show off.

  12. Overseas books suffer from humidity and especially, termites. I worry about pastors in Africa who want to use the reference material we expect for our pastors in the USA, but can’t possible protect paper.

    There are some needed improvements in the ebook world, covering organization of your library, better organization of your notes and quoting from ebooks. But abiity to use on a smart phone, or project onto a wall – have you looked at the price/size curve of projectors recently. Soon to be readily usable by group reading, or low power projection on clay walls!

    The biggest market for all literature is in the third world – not so much immediately but as an up swelling storm!

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