Judging from the number of dictionaries floating around the library of a morning, I’d say that lots of people still use them. Any perception that dead wood information and entertainment is dead is misdirection.
Of course, the decline may have begun long before I started in the public library service, and it’s possible that the current government is going to annhilate the public library service pretty soon, so I may be miles off on that one.
I suspect that dictionaries and novels will take the longest to transition over to new media consumption. There’s something about the physical sensation of touring a dictionary, and the authoriarian nature of the institutions that create them, that I think will lead to their fetishisation far beyond creation of a viable e-book.
Dictionaries are partly about power. It’s the institutions behind them that grants them that power .
Getting into the dictionary should be like getting into an exclusive club. Getting your name on the list (and there’s already plenty of words in their that I wouldn’t want to be part of a club that would have them as a member, but that’s beside the point). At least one day a year the newspapers are abuzz with attention grabbing neologisms, a deft (and whorish) bit of publicity from the university presses.
Once admitted into the roped off area, you’re suddenly viable in a game of scrabble, albeit only for people who manage to keep an up to date dictionary on hand.
And for the record, playing scrabble with the internet as a verifier is a horrible thing. Wiktionary in particular sucks out all of the fun by acceptingevery possible alternate spelling or deviation or derivation as valid. Crowd sourcing is usually a cause celebré for me, but when it fucks with my scrabble, shit hits fans.
So to speak.
So I suspect less people use dictionaries. Even when you include online ones (though I probably ‘google define’ to settle arguments more than I could ever be bothered to with a dead wood dictionary, which is almost unfailingly in another room). The ubiquity of spell check means that people don’t bother quite as much. Possibly. Whether this has improved the overall quality of spelling is to be disputed. It’s certainly had a negative effect on spelling outside of the realm of the spell-checkable.
But back to dead wood.
The fact is that still, even with ipads and iphones and the supposedly perfect design manifestation of the apple company in general, there’s some features that books possess that haven’t been replicated.
The random search function is more tactile and entertaining. The simple search function is more exciting and encourages additional serendipitous discovery. Durability is unbeatable. The battery life is unlikely. The resolution is impeccable.
Books are lovely things. This may be more fetish than logic, but it’s not going to get overridden until the computers are in our brains already.
And that’ll probably be too late.
Illustration by Lucy.