Why books are making a comeback

Some ideas were made to be forgotten

Hey this is Zac!

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Now without further adieu…

Most of what we read is garbage.

Most of what we see on the news is, at best, erroneous and at worst, intentionally misleading. Virtually everything on Twitter is ephemeral. These ideas are designed to “feed the beast" today, and be purged from our collective memory tomorrow.

Clues hinting at the usefulness of information are baked right into the medium. Yet, many of them go unnoticed. For much of my life, I thought that all ideas were equal.

To me, a brilliant article was just as valid as a brilliant book, movie, or podcast. I separated the message from the medium. However, I didn’t realize that these two were inextricably linked. By separating the medium from the message, I was disregarding a critical piece of information.

The Medium and The Message

In a race to destruction, you’d think that physical goods like books, papers, and memos, would be the first to expire. Eroded by the sands of time. But it appears that the effects of aging, are far more destructive on digital bytes than on physical books.

So if you want something to last, write it in a book.

And if you want something to truly stand the test of time, carve it on a boulder.

We can use this framework, Bytes, Books, and Boulders as a sort of informational illumination. A guiding light to the type of works worthy of our attention, both as a creator and a consumer.

The Medium is a Signal

Each medium—Bytes, Books, and Boulders—is signaling to us about the authors intent. Moses, although he had access to papyrus, brought down two stone tablets from Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were not meant to be forgotten, and their medium reflected that.

Authors who are writing for posterity, write books. Authors who are writing for eternity—documenting the most important ideas of their time—write on boulders.

And this has everything to do with costliness.

Typing up a Tweet or filming a TikTok is not a costly endeavor. It takes only a few minutes of concentration and forethought. There is no friction to the process, and it’s completely free to do. If that particular Tweet or TikTok video doesn’t hit, the creator can simply catapult another one into the zeitgeist.

Books however are a serious endeavor. A truly prolific author could maybe produce a dozen books in their lifetime. Therefore, the ideas they choose to publish will, by virtue, be the cream of their crop.

The costliness of books doesn’t end there. They have huge upfront monetary costs. They require editors, and publishers, and press tours. A book is not something you create on a whim. As a result, the ideas contained in books have been vetted by effort and personal sacrifice.

Now this costliness doesn’t ensure that all books are gems. Many, if not most, are terrible. It simply is a signal of the author’s intent. If the author didn’t care, they would have written a Tweet instead.

The Messages Don’t Stick

From the moment we wake to the moment our heads hit the pillow at night, we drink with a thirst that can never be satisfied from a stream that can never run dry. The stream of ideas.

And yet, most of what we drink is ephemera.

When you eliminate all sacrifice required to create, anything that comes to mind is worthy of submission. Therefore, the vast majority of information we nourish ourselves with today was created by those who have no attachment to their ideas.

As a result, our unconscious mind dumps this information before it ever makes contact with our memory. Ask yourself this question: What was the subject of the last Tweet you read? Now ask yourself: What was the subject of the last book you read? What were the names of the characters? We have high fidelity memory for certain types of media, and near amnesia for others.

And once again, this has everything to do with sacrifice.

The sacrifice an author makes before publishing their work is mirrored by the sacrifice we make when consuming it. Crime and Punishment took Dostoevsky 2 years to write. At nearly 500 pages, it would take me about 2 weeks to finish, but would linger in my psyche for a lifetime. Contrast that with a Tweet that took 10 minutes to write. The moment I scrolled away, it would be lost forever.

The longer we stay with an idea, the longer the idea will stay with us.

And there’s the paradox. We’re spending more time now—than ever before in human history—drinking from the stream of ideas. And yet, we are no better off than we were just a few decades ago, with only books and newspapers.

Books, Bytes, Boulders

Just like how our diet constitutes the very building blocks of our cells, the information we consume gives structure to the scaffolding of our minds. We become what we consume, so it’s worth considering: What are you becoming?

Are you made of Bytes, Books, or Boulders?

Is the very backbone of your belief system derived from ideas that were meant to be forgotten? Ideas that contained no personal sacrifice on the part of their authors.

For too long, my answer to that question was yes.

I’m working to change that.

I’m reading more books. I’m consuming fewer bytes. I’m spending my time writing ideas worthy of paper. I’m studying the classics, and seeking out what wisdom I can from the true badasses. Those who chiseled the most important stories of their time in stone.

—Zac

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