Are printed technical books still relevant?
In the later part of every year I have a ritual of pulling the books on old versions of no longer needed programming languages out and donating them to the local library (please everyone do this to help those who want to learn!) or to Goodwill. The problem is, this year there are but a handful of books left on the shelves before I even start, I started to ponder this and reached the following conclusions.
I know I’m still working as hard as ever, so it’s not that I haven’t needed reference materials. I am still learning new technologies and expanding my skill set so it can’t be that, then it hit me. Printed reference books are almost redundant! … hear me out …
I hear some of you reaching for the pitch fork to come after me. There are now so many ways to get answers and learn new things that reaching for the books just never happens, I even have some old books that I just keep because I feel a loyalty to them and what they taught me. There are online services like Lynda.com or Code School that I use to learn new skills or software packages, plus let us not forget the no.1 programmer mantra Google it, and my eBook library is growing all the time but even that is starting to slow. The main reason eBooks I feel have been so successful over the print versions is the ability to search, that’s a massive boost to time saving. I do not think I’ve read a technical book from cover to cover in more than a few years now.
Then there is the big problem that printed reference material has always suffered from; Time to live! By the time a book hits the shelf at a book store or ordering service the subject at hand has already been out at least three to six months and the new version is already around the corner, this has always been the problem for people writing these excellent reference books. A perfect example of this is the new Apple Swift language, by the time the books hit the street we will already be thinking about WWDC15 and there are bound to be a lot of changes to the language.
I am sad to see my printed book collection shrink, I like many I’m sure love to see the spines all lined up on the shelf just like the day when we would proudly present our software boxes to the World in the same way before everything went digital download. But I accept and feel others need to do the same that we have to embrace the new ways and tell ourselves that it’s progress. Or is it? I would learn more from re-reading a book over and over and applying that knowledge to other things than I ever will from just Googl’ing the answer and moving on without ever really understanding what I just did because the search result told me to.
I feel that technology and the way we learn needs to slow down so we can really absorb the information and live in the now rather than always feel like we are racing to the future. Next time you pass by a book on your desk, bed or bookshelf be sure to give it a friendly tap and say thanks.