[Humanist] 22.652 what good are a billion ebooks?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Mar 27 07:01:30 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 652.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2009 21:20:09 -0700 (PDT)
        From: "Michael S. Hart" <hart at pglaf.org>
        Subject: What Good Are A Billion eBooks?
        In-Reply-To: <20090326061905.D938B2F44C at woodward.joyent.us>

What Good Are A Billion eBooks?

This question has recently arisen in response to several comments
about the future of eBooks, basically claiming that no one can do
justice to reading a billion books.

Part I

Of course the answer is obvious that just HAVING a billion books,
or even just instantaneous access to them, should allow one to do
much greater research than if one is limited to physical books in
a physical set of library buildings.

Much wider ranges of research done much more quickly, with errors
in quotations reduced to infinitessimal levels.

No more stacks and stacks of Oxford 3.5 index cards, or larger.

No more copying from book to card, card to draft, draft to draft,
to draft, to draft, to final copy of the paper.

All done automagically, instantaneously.

OK, first of all I am the first to admit, admitted it decades ago
in many of my own comments, that these tools do NOTHING for those
who don't care about their education.  Nothing other than perhaps
save them a little time in pretending at school.

However, for the person who DOES care, let's suppose the minimum,
the barest minimum nominal improvement, let us suppose they learn
just 1% more per year during their lives.

Let's further cut the lifespan we measure down from the statistic
we read in our research to 70 years. . .after all, not much doing
in this kind of process for most until age 5, and let us suppose,
just for ease of measurement, that we stop learning at 75.

70 years of learning improved by 1% per year.

Now, in all honesty, we must consider that anything extra learned
this year will help us somewhat in our learning next year.

Not a lot, let's just stick with that 1% for measurement's ease.

As any of you who have taken even that most elementary statistics
lesson of all time, 70 years at 1%, compounded yields 200% of the
output you would get with 0% extra added on each year.

In simple terms, it means you end up with TWICE AS MUCH!!!

Most people would be rather impressed with anything that got them
twice as much money, time, happiness, or whatever in the lives.

Apparently not the people who are complaining that a billion book
files free for the taking would generally be worthless.

Of course, as above, they would be, if you never used them.

"The man who does not read good books has no
advantage over the man who can't read them."

Mark Twain

Part II

However, for many of us, particularly those who have spent, would
spend, or might be tempted to spend, years in academia in pursuit
of a serious education, the following scenario might work better:

Let's suppose the person with access to a billion books online is
going to learn 10% more per year than those following in footstep
after footstep along the beaten paths that I, myself, with others
numbering in the thousands, wore down the marble steps of a quite
large world famous library.

This could be simply due to saving enough time in walking around,
using the card catalogs, waiting for books to come back in, going
from library to library to library, waiting on InterLibrary Loan,
or any number of other time consumers we old folks all suffered.

Or it could be that the actual time spent studying was efficient,
to the tune of 10% more learning in the same number of hours.

Or it could be both. . .but I will limit myself to just one here.

Using the same 70 year effective learning lifespan as above, this
process takes the following simple mathematical path:

Every 7 years, compounded, as above, we would learn TWICE what we
would have learned without the extra 10%.

Here is a little table of what happens over 70 years at 10%:

Years   Total

  7        2
14        4
21        8
28       16
35       32
42       64
49      128
56      256
63      512
70     1024

I can already hear the howls of protest that no one could learn a
thousand times what 75 year old people have already learned.

No matter what the environment.

I hate to tell you, but it already happened.


Before Johannes Gutenberg 99% of the population could not read.

What they "knew" was a mashup of everything they heard plus a bit
of personal experience on top of that. . .in fact, experience may
have easily played a larger role that all they ever heard since a
great deal of what they heard was very likely just rumors.

YOU easily know 1,000 times as much as the average Feudal serf!!!

And that was the level of the average person before Gutenberg.

If you had told them they could learn 1,000 times more by reading
the new Gutenberg books, they would have laughed you out of town.

Just as some of you are trying to do with me. . . .

10%. . .per YEAR. . .is all it takes to accomplish this.

It's nothing compared to Moore's Law of 100% per 18 months.

All you have to do is USE the materials to learn 10% more.


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