Interesting Times

It may or may not be a true Confucian saying, but I have always liked the idea of cursing someone by hoping that they live in “interesting times.” “The clear implication,” says the Phrase Finder Website, “being that ‘uninteresting times’, of peace and tranquility, are more life-enhancing.” Or, at least profitable, if you are in the textbook industry. May they live in interesting times.

I bring this up only because Google is having an “interesting time” meeting its Utopian goal of making all of the world’s books digitally available. (“Could Google Books ruling affect college textbook market?“) If you put this together with cheap, electronic readers, and perhaps with a simple– and elegant, one hopes– printing system, then the end of our current intellectual property era looms ever closer.

At a certain point– depending, among other things, on when Google gets its permissions in order– a “textbook” will be a search algorithm that gathers together a list of the best available resources on a particular subject. These algorithms could have all sorts of parameters: an introductory” or “advanced” filter, or a filter that excludes or includes information posted after a certain date.

We not yet to the point– as far as I know– where we can begin designing that search engine. The problem is, of course, is money. Or, to be more accurate the problem is both wages– how authors can get paid– and profits, that is, how publishing houses can stay afloat. The first makes a lot of sense: we created copyright in order to encourage writing. We shouldn’t worry so much about the publishers.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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