Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What if Ebooks Were the Dominant Platform?

BoSacks Speaks Out: My friend Rex Hammock posted the following on one of his Blogs.
"What if Samir Husni & Bob Sacks Swapped Sides?
This post about trying out a "technology flip test" ( See Below) in which eBook advocates become defenders of paper and vice-versa made me think of the longest-running debate on the magozinosophere. Bob, Samir, give it a shot."

I responded back to Rex somthing like this:

I will take the challenge any time and any place. I love the whole concept of it. What a wonderful debate it could/would be. So long as Samir doesn't cheat. You know what I mean, we accept the challenge, we both do our homework and we both try to win . . . Except if Samir doesn't try to win too hard, I lose the long term real debate by winning the flip test debate. Not that Samir would do anything like that, you understand.
So, Samir, will you take the side that digital will win?
Insanity -- a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.
R. D. Lang

What if Ebooks Were the Dominant Platform?
Posted by Mac Slocum
I recently came across an old blog post from Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee that discusses the utility of the "technology flip test". McAfee writes:

At a conference years back I was sitting on a panel that was asked to talk about future of the book. As the discussion was heating up about the inevitability of the electric media, someone on the panel (I wish it had been me) proposed a flip test. He said "Let's say the world has only e-books, then someone introduces this technology called 'paper.' It's cheap, portable, lasts essentially forever, and requires no batteries. You can't write over it once it's been written on, but you buy more very cheaply. Wouldn't that technology come to dominate the market?" It's fair to say that comment changed the direction of the panel.

The ebook vs paper flip test is intriguing for a number of reasons:

It inverts the offense and defense: Ebook advocates become defenders and paper-book supporters become disruptors. Shaking off the vestiges of a default argument is always a good idea -- think of it as a "debate cleanser."
It amplifies the strengths of each format . . . initially: When I ran through the flip test on my own, I at first honed in on the cost savings of ebooks (no paper, no printing, no shipping) and the sensory aspects of print books. But further review revealed deeper complexities to this debate. And that led me to . . .
It upends assumptions: Print's dominant position in the real world causes me to challenge pro-print arguments, most notably the tactile experience overreaction that often derails discussions. But placing ebooks in the hot seat gave me a new perspective on ebook defenses. For example, if my default reading environment was electronic and networked, would I want (or need) a disconnected outlet? Would I crave solitude and a languid pace? Does the upside of ebook economics supersede the other reading/storytelling experiences I'm looking for, or would I welcome a print alternative the way I now welcome an electronic option?
What's your take on the flip test? Does inverting the argument open the discussion, or is this a diversionary trick that detracts from the issues at hand? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

(Original idea and McAfee link via Reading 2.0 list.)

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