Why isn't their a push in Academics to get of textbooks?
Indeed. It seems everyone else is thinking hard about ebooks and ebook readers (or “smartbooks”), as this article, and this blog post, and this radio interview (scroll down to part three) show. You thought the music industry freaked out about mp3s? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
That academics haven’t moved to ditch textbooks is a classic example of how universities are simultaneously the greatest engine for innovation in the world, and the slowest, least agile, most conservative institutions you’ll find anywhere.
Academics are like kids in dysfunctional families, in some ways: they repeat the patterns they they themselves went through. Because they had textbooks when they went through their undergrad training in the 80s (or earlier), they think it’s normal for their students to have textbooks.
Academics also obsess about standards. They like textbooks because they go through a fairly rigorous vetting process. Wikipedia? Barely a month goes by where I don’t hear a colleague ranting about Wikipedia. “It’s plagiarized.” “It’s unreliable.” “They (students) don’t understand that’s not a valid source...” So their response is to tell students, “Don’t use it at all,” rather than, “Here’s the ways to use evaluate what you find on Wikipedia critically, and use it as a way into literature.”
And in the back of people’s minds, there might be worries about obsolescence. They don’t want to be the person who bought Betamax and has a stack of 8-tracks in the closet.*
Books are one of the “most perfect objects ever invented,” so it is no surprise that people are reluctant to let go. People who love books as physical objects and mementos. Fine. Film didn’t kill theatre, television didn’t kill movies, and mp3s still haven’t managed to exterminate vinyl. But the old technologies have become occasional, premium experiences, not mass market.
Few people have such attachment to their introductory general biology textbooks, though.
I’ll try to explore this some more in a later post.
* And speaking of Wikipedia, I bet I’ve just sent a couple of people there by referencing Betamax and 8-tracks.