The Relevance of a Past in Digital Publishing (?)

Peter Brantley’s article The New Ones: The Only Horizon Is Before Us gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own abilities and ambitions. The article, in sum, talks about a young software developer and aspiring author in graduate school at UC Berkeley. Though talented, this student represents thousands of others like him that don’t know anything about the history of publishing software before 2012. They know everything about EPUB3, but they are blissfully unaware of the time and effort it took on the part of other software developers to get it to its current status. They have the luxury of taking advantage of its simplicity.


As I mentioned in a comment on the article, I understand where the author is coming from. He, not unlike the young man at UC Berkley, cares and has found success in the field of digital publishing. That said, he is older and more and experienced and has therefore been present throughout the entire evolution of ebooks. Indeed, I can see the advantage of a young tech developer collaborating with a more experienced one, but this premise applies to all fields – it is not limited to the field of digital publishing. For instance, if I were to get a job as an editor at a magazine, while I don’t fully grasp the evolution of the medium, I have a great interest in the latter; my skills are still relevant and my interest still significant. Moreover, in this situation, I would be trained by a skilled and more experienced industry professional, who, incidentally, knows more about the history of the magazine than I. Yet, in this situation in which I get a job at a magazine, the skilled professional training me still won’t have been alive for the entire history of magazine publishing. This skilled professional doesn’t know what issues were found in the first editions of magazines. Yet, he or she is still qualified to train me. I understand and have many examples to prove that the past influences the future. Don’t get me wrong, this knowledge is absolutely beneficial, but it doesn’t mean that someone without an understanding of the past can’t do his or her job properly. In the case of this young software developer/aspiring author at UC Berkeley and all others in his position, I would even argue that his lack of understanding of ebook history could prove useful. Because the history of the ebook is so short, the benefit in knowing about it is to know what mistakes not to repeat; this is where the aforementioned collaboration comes in. On the other hand, not knowing about this history allows room for more creativity in this young developer’s work. This premise removes all restrictions.


Experienced professionals will always get privileged in terms of looking for jobs; this is natural. It has always been the case and will likely remain so. But a new take on an admittedly still new (yet rapidly growing) concept won’t prove detrimental.

One Reply to “The Relevance of a Past in Digital Publishing (?)”

  1. This piece appears to be making the case that what would be even more useful than being a young ahistorical tech-savvy developer working in digital publishing would be to be that, but to partner with an open-minded collaborator with a deep understanding of traditions. This is a terrific point, and response to Brantley’s essay, although it is one that the author only makes at the end, and somewhat obliquely.

    The same argument could have been more strongly presented by leading with it, and making the focus of the entire response.

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