Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.– Clayton Christensen
Clayton Christensen said that he came up with the disruptive innovation theory by asking the question “why do well-run companies go out of business” when he entered business school. He attributed having a unifying question to guiding his research and being open to answers.
I am similarly thinking about the question “what are books for?” I don’t have a lot of good answers yet, but I have seen something that I think is part of my answer.
I just finished “reading” Quantum Country, which is a series of essays about quantum computing. The material is very challenging, but they have a novel technique for helping you process and remember the content. They embedded flash cards in the text, and the site uses spaced repetition algorithms like I described yesterday in my post about Anki.
So, their answer to what books are for is something like “to transfer knowledge from the writer to the reader”, which is an obvious answer, but I have rarely read a book that tries to do this so thoroughly.
There is another answer in this text, somewhat meta, which is “to advance the idea of mnemonic media”, which is what they call this style of book. It’s not surprising that a new form of media would need to explain itself—it’s like how music in new genres needs to explain the genre they are in (see “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” and “Rapper’s Delight”)
In the world of publishing, there are other possible answers such as “to increase the reputation of the author”, “to entertain while reading”, “to sell related services”.
It’s not so much that I want to know what books are for generally, but more about what I think they should be for. And once I know what they are for, to question whether books are even the right way to deliver on that.