We’re doomed. Evolution is an ineluctable process; once it gets started, it’s not just an optional alternative, it becomes unstoppable, short of nuking the planet from orbit (and even then, all it takes is one surviving bacterium for it to begin again). Charlie Stross has noticed that books have crossed the threshold and are now poised for an adaptive radiation.
We already share highlighting — I get a little annoyed when I’m reading on my kindle and suddenly there’s a block of text with a dotted underline — other people thought that section worthy of notice and have shared their emphasis with the world.
I’ve also noticed that the books I’ve bought through Amazon suddenly pop up with a ranking and suggestions page when I reach the end. It used to be you’d finish a book and close it satisfyingly and put it back on the shelf…but no, now it yells at you “Did you like me? Buy more of me!”
As Stross points out, the next dreadful steps, since a book has become code, will be the incorporation of malware and agents to sabotage competing books in your library and insert new ads around the place, or even replicate more of the authors’ works. I’ve downloaded some of those cheap or even free books into my epub library, and some of them are so bad that I suspect they are already intrinsically malware.
Books are going to be like cockroaches, hiding and breeding in dark corners and keeping you awake at night with their chittering. There’s no need for you to go in search of them: rather, the problem will be how to keep them from overwhelming you.
Doomed, I tells you. I am squinting at my iPad right now. I think it’s plotting to get me.