Thing that’s been on my mind lately: if you want your blog posts or your photographs to be around fifty years from now, you need to print them out. And the best format for that printout is a bound book. And if you care about your stuff being around after you die, you’ll print lots of copies and distribute them to anyone who might be persuaded to take one of them.
Sixty years ago, Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchmen and lost track of it, and this year the original manuscript was apparently found by someone rummaging through a box of old papers. Suppose she had written it on a computer, where is it now? Sitting on a punch tape or a giant magnetic platter, that’s where. Who cares if it is saved in plain text or WordStar 3.0 format; at that point it’s almost undiscoverable, and as good as gone. And sixty years from now our SSDs, USB drives, and even our M-Discs are going to be as difficult to use (and as busted) as that fridge-sized IBM Model 350 is now.
Keeping electronic files and photos around is like trying to keep a brain alive with tubes, wires and chemicals. You have to keep checking in on them, making sure they’re backed up, and migrating them to some stable combination of hardware and filesystem. Every few years. Maybe you have the patience to keep doing that for a decade, to keep writing the checks and putting in the Saturday afternoons. But someone has to keep up the effort or the day comes when you lose track of it, and at that point it’s basically kaput.
This is why I started my project of making a book-making machine. The goal of the project is to be able to take a snapshot of whatever I write or photograph, and magically turn that into a bound book. So that, should I someday no longer have the wherewithal to fiddle with computers and web servers, I can still have all those words and pictures on a shelf somewhere.
I could just print my stuff out on my laser printer, staple it together and call it a day. But a bound book is more compact, more durable and more useable than a sheaf of papers. We happen to live in a time when printing books is easy, fast and cheap. You can send a PDF to CreateSpace, order a single book for a few clams plus shipping, and it will show up on your doorstep a week later.1
So that’s what I’m working on, for fun, in my spare time. I’ll probably make a book of The Local Yarn, and a second one of transcripts of the Howell Creek Radio podcast. When I’m done, I’ll make the books available for anyone to purchase. I expect to sell perhaps three copies and end up with a couple of dimes in my pocket. The point isn’t to make money; it’s to ensure that whoever might want a permanent, offline copy of this stuff can get one — and that, if my house gets hit by a tornado, I can beg or buy a copy back from somebody.
I just can’t get over the fact that this service exists. The ability to print a single bound book for the price of a hot dog is, as much as the internet itself, an economic result that is unique in the history of the world. I keep thinking that, as a society, we could be taking much better advantage of this capability than we do. Who knows how long it will last. ↩