The Literary Platform is hosting an international competition inviting creatives to produce an animation that illustrates a rare and prophetic audio recording of Douglas Adams talking in 1993 about the Evolution of the Book.
In this short recording, kindly donated to The Literary Platform by Bob Stein, Douglas Adams charts the evolution of the book from the ‘hardware problems’ of writing on rocks, to scrolls, to the bound book and finally the silicon chip.
Some of our non English-speaking entrants have asked for the transcript so we’re posting it onto the site here:
Douglas Adams: “Getting the book invented properly has been a long, hard slog for mankind. Early attempts at it were dogged by hardware problems. The hardware was rock-based, which meant that it was heavy, cumbersome and, above all, very hard. Then, someone had a bright idea: let’s scrunch up a lot of trees, mash them into a nice pulp, flatten them out, dry them, write on them and then, I don’t know, roll them up or something. This was a terrific success, or at least a semi-terrific success. The scroll was much lighter, much softer and a little bit easier to handle. Clearly it was the ‘I don’t know, roll them up or something’ bit that needed some work.
New research brought a stunning new idea: why not cut up the rolls of paper, sew them up the middle and, I don’t know, stick ‘em between a couple of bits of board or something? This was the turning point. This new version of the book was fantastically easy to use; all you had to do, basically, was sit there. It really caught on. In fact, it caught on in such a big way that soon everybody was writing down virtually anything they could think of and putting it into books. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. The whole business was getting out of control again.
So, back to rock-based technology. Someone had had a bright idea about what to do with silicon, which was ‘scrunch it up, flatten it out, do a horrendous amount of other stuff to it and then, I don’t know, stick it in a powerbook or something’. This was the crucial breakthrough. Now, however much people wrote, it could be turned into Voyager Expanded Books software and the powerbook could handle it. All the things anybody liked about previous types of books – pictures, text, scrolling, page turning – could be modelled in software and you could take as many books as you wanted, anywhere you liked.
Voyager Expanded Books: everything you liked about books, scrunched up into silicon or something. Voyager Expanded Books: getting the book invented properly.”