Ask the average person and they will tell you that the internet is superior to plain books in every way. Content online does not need to go through a publishing house in order to reach people, anyone can do it, and online content can be altered as needed in the future. The internet is indeed far more malleable than books, like a blacksmith working his iron, and that is precisely why books are better.
Written in Stone
It was no arbitrary decision that God wrote His Ten Commandments on tablets of stone; He could have used parchment just as well, but He chose stone because it is difficult alter what is written in stone. What was parchment versus stone 3,500 years ago is now online media versus print media.
If I wish to retract anything I have written on this website, I can accomplish that very quickly with a simple “rm name-of-file” and rebuild the site. I have done this, and probably will do it again. If, however, I wrote a book that was popular enough to print and sell 100,000 copies, I had better be sure that what I wrote was well argued and in harmony with my conscience, because there is no way for me to reclaim all those books. It is, practically speaking, written in stone. What I hypothetically wrote is written and can never be rescinded.
Sure, I could release a second enhanced edition of my book, but I still cannot get what I originally created back from the hands of my readers. As we have now demonstrated, books are static objects: what is written is what is written and they are unfeasible to alter. Contrarily, internet content is trivial to remove or alter.
Static is Beautiful
What is considered books’ biggest disadvantage is in fact their biggest advantage. We need not worry that a copy of Homer’s Iliad is going change into a some weird romance just sitting on the shelf, nor do we need to worry that St. Thomas Aquinas might change up his great works and delete what he no longer thinks applies. Even if either of these men were still living, there is nothing they could do to stop the proliferation of their work, whether they liked it or not.
Because books are static, a good writer of either fiction or nonfiction should take exceptional care in crafting their work in such a way that they will not regret having published it. I largely regret the old bargainbinphilosophy site for example, thus you will no longer find it. But I would never have had the audacity to try putting such a site in print! The same goes for this site.
The stillness of books is also applicable to reference books, for instance, old dictionaries are far superior to online dictionaries in that the definitions cannot be altered by our narrative writers. I have not yet considered old encyclopedias, but they may hold enormous value in contradistinction to Wikipedia. One can imagine that historical events could be rendered entirely differently by an encyclopedia from 1930 than what is an ever-changing, narrative-driven website like Wikipedia.
It is true that books being static objects means that they are never “up-to-date.” But the reality of life is that nothing that is truly important is ever “up-to-date” in the modern sense. Solid facts, arguments, and good philosophy do not need updating like a computer, they merely get addenda like prefaces written by scholars that neither add nor subtract from the original work; usually, such addenda explore the significance of the work, or provide additional context. Further, topics like logic do not need updates, fundamentally speaking, because a statement like A = B = C, therefore A = C, will not magically change in the dead of night.
Where the Internet is Better
For a truly deep-dive into any topic, a book is better in every way, but the internet has a funny way of shallowly exposing us to all sorts of things. My experimenting with biodiesel would have never occured without the internet, though I should say reading a book on the topic made the experiments actually successful. It is this “mile-wide and an inch-deep” quality of the internet that is valuable as a means of exposure.
Also, I have not considered the other types content on the internet that are really more effective than the written word, namely, forums and videos. Forums are, hands-down, one of the best ways to figure out some esoteric issues with whatever you are working on. I have found hoards of golden information on FTE about Ford F100 issues compared to my Haynes “manual.” Videos also take the cake for demonstrating processes of whatever kind because it is the closest medium to having an expert give you a master-class on the topic. While I wrote all about deer processing, it would be ridiculous to not watch those videos I linked, for those videos show exactly what to do, whereas I can only describe it. As much a bibliophile as I can be, these two other mediums clearly trounce books in their own ways.
A Store of Knowledge
What is the written word besides a medium in which to store knowledge that we are afraid we might forget? If you have ever read the classic novels Nineteen Eighty Four and Fahrenheit 451, then you already know those fictitious dystopian societies (or utopian(?) in Fahrenheit 451’s case) target books for the express reason that the stored, unregulated written word is difficult to control. Therefore, Orwell’s society has an enormous bureacracy for destroying or altering reading material to fit the Party narrative, and Bradbury’s society nominates the firefighters as chief book burners. Realistically, at least, it seems such a system for alteration or destruction of books seems improbable. If you know about historical book burnings, for instance, you already know they did not do a very good job of it.
I do not give these fictitious examples just because they destroy controversial ideas or facts in the written word, but because they could very well destroy volumes on raising pigs or growing gardens. Little self-reliant measures such as these, if the knowledge of them were to disappear, would strand the consumer forever as a consumer. He may even begin to believe that of course food is made in a soy processing factory, and that anything else is dirty and dangerous. Trust the billion dollar companies, right?
There are three ways a literate man cannot read:
He has nothing to read (improbable)
He chooses not to read (probable, see below)
– “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain
Somebody stands between him and reading material (not likely with a conquered internet, and unfeasible with books)
Reason 1 is null with the glut of books and internet reading material. (1) There is always something to read, and, (3) with the internet being a mostly subjugated space that, mythologically speaking, knows all things, no one would stand between the average reader and the internet because it is on a tight leash. Instead, and this is hardly a conspiracy, (2) literate people choose to not read; while there is certainly an interest for megalomaniacal actors to push literate people away from reading, this is inconsequential since these people simply do not want to read in the first place. It is far easier to let Google answer all their questions with all the authority of a god.
Consider investing in books. They do not magically change or disappear, they are much more comprehensive in their subjects, and they are a safeguard against catastrophe in that even if the lights go out permanently and the internet is no more, we will still have shelves filled with the knowledge and stories needed to live a good life.