Gawande at MLA in Phoenix
Books Are More Than Containers

The Cover(s) of the Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone magazine has done a series of special issues over the past couple of years -- greatest albums of all time, best guitarists, most influential artists, etc.  I've enjoyed them all, but I think the latest is my favorite.  For their 1,000th issue this week, they're celebrating the 100 greatest covers.  It's a great theme and provides an opportunity to do an overview of 40 years of popular culture and the magazine's singular role in it.   Watching Annie Leibovitz go from a bright & creative kid to one of the most influential photographers of the late 20th century, and reading her talking about how some of those classic covers came together, is worth the price of admission all by itself.   

There's much more than that, of course.  In addition to the photographers, they've pulled in a great group of writers to talk about how some of those stories came together in the first place.  Some of the stories are funny, some -- like the tale of that last picture of John & Yoko -- are heartbreaking.  (I remember the shock -- and gratitude -- that I felt when I first saw that cover -- I still have the issue sitting on a shelf in my closet -- oughta get the damn thing framed).

Flipping through the magazine provides further evidence that this whole discussion about digital vs. print, and when print is going to disappear completely is entirely wrong-headed.  Print does different things than digital.  Rolling Stone has a good website and does things there that can't even be imagined in print -- but that doesn't make the print version an anachronism.  Both exist together quite comfortably.  (Has anyone noticed how effectively NPR has melded radio & web?)  As I pointed out at the NASIG meeting (repeating a constant theme of mine), new technologies rarely completely displace older ones -- they achieve different things and the older technologies find new niches.  Far from approaching the end of print, I believe we're entering a golden age.  Most of the material that a library like mine is interested in may be better handled digitally, but the physical book will continue to be the preferred technology for many purposes.

The New York Times magazine today has a piece by Kevin Kelly called "Scan This Book" which, I presume, will be another take on this discussion.  I'm eager to see what he has to say.  Normally, I read the Sunday Times online every week, but for this one, I'm going to go pick up a copy so that I can read it in print.

Photography didn't kill painting and vinyl records didn't eliminate the desire to go to the concert hall.   I still carry around a fountain pen and fine stationery when I travel because that's the best technology for writing love letters to Lynn.  And did you see that young couple laughing and giggling together in the horse & buggy on the 16th street mall in Denver last week?

Those who argue that digital technology will completely replace printed material suffer from a serious lack of imagination.


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