Technology has a way of sweeping through a familiar landscape radically changing whatever might get in its way. So often we reject such changes, not because they diminish convenience or choice or quality, but because they remove that very familiarity that provides us with a strange kind of comfort. Which photographer - old enough to have cut his or her milk teeth - did not at one time say that digital cameras could never replace the familiar solidity of rolled film and clicking shutter? Which avid music collector did not curse magical MP3s whilst caressing in his or her hand a real disc of pressed vinyl? Which book lover can run his or her fingers along a familiar bookshelf and dream instead of a shiny new Kindle?
And yet we all now carry digital cameras and welcome their functionality. We all now walk the dog with MP3 players plugged into our ears rather than making the poor creature pull a little cart loaded with a record player and a pile of 78rpm records. And, at some stage along the way, we may all snuggle down at night with the comforting feel of an eBook reader next to us on the pillow.
The advantage of the sweep of new technology is not that it replaces but it enhances. Before digital cameras, photography was for the specialist or the professional and thousands upon thousands of ordinary moments in peoples' lives went unrecorded. Look at any kid's Facebook page and you can see how digital photography has changed all that. Before MP3 players, music was a static experience and hi-fi and high-price were familiar bedfellows. In terms of books, technological change should enable us to enhance the publishing experience, democratise it, widen it and enable us to preserve more. The book is not dead : the book is merely changing.
These thoughts have been stimulated by two things going on in my life at the moment. Yesterday I discovered that the British Library had just published a special iPad edition of Lewis Carroll's handwritten original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland. In addition to be a stunning visual and literary presentation, this particular edition makes full use of technology by giving you the choice of either reading the book yourself or having it read to you. And if you are still not convinced it is worth adding an eBook reader to your early Christmas present list, I should add that - for a limited period - the new edition of Alice is available free of charge from the iBook store.
Wonderful as eBooks may be, there is still room for good, old-fashioned paper and pasteboard affairs that can physically sit on bookshelves. Technology will not destroy such things : it will simply enhance them and widen their functionality. And that brings me to the second thing that is occupying my time at the moment - my parents, Albert and Gladys. As I have mentioned before, this year is the 100th anniversary of their birth and I have set myself the challenge of publishing a little centenary appreciation of their lives. This is not something which is going to be read by anybody other than a close family circle. But when it is finished, hopefully, the two or three copies can be kept in the family, handed down the generations and thereby provide a permanent memorial to a special generation. Because it will be bound and professionally produced it should survive and not fall victim to changing technological fashions. Changing technology means that I can embark on such a project knowing that the total costs will be just a few pounds instead of a few thousand pounds. And just in case I am wrong about the survival of traditional books, I think I will publish it as an eBook as well.