The second of our new series of special features about non-fiction books looks at
Peter Usborne, one of the first to venture into Computer books for children, offers an insider’s view of publishing in
The Micro Jungle
The arrival of a completely new subject is a rare and delightful event in the world of children’s book publishing. Microcomputing makes a welcome change from dinosaurs, birds, and aeroplanes, but it is a field changing so quickly that publishing for it sometimes seems like sailing through a hurricane after the calm waters of the old. timeless subjects.
It is only a few years since computers began to evolve from machines designed for the use of trained experts into everyday tools of entertainment and instruction for amateurs. The first Apple microcomputer, as it was called, was put together in America some eight or so years ago by an absurdly young entrepreneur in his garage in California. Within two or three years, he was a tycoon: and by now Apple Computer is a massive corporation.
The American micro boom was founded on sales at fairly high prices to small businesses and computer hobbyists with a fair amount of money to spend. Surprisingly enough, it was the tired old British who pioneered the really cheap computer for the home, at a quarter or less of the price of the established American makes. Within a couple of years of the launch of Clive Sinclair’s astonishing ZX computers, Britain had, for a brief moment of history. gained both a technological and a commercial lead over the rest of the world. Someone recently estimated that there are perhaps twice as many home computers in Britain per head as in America. and one and a half times as many as in Japan. A few months ago, an American computer journalist wrote that the U.S. was ‘at least a year and a half behind Britain in the home micro field’.
Americans and Europeans. as well as we ourselves find it hard to understand how and why our notoriously sluggish economy responded with such speed to the home computer. It is perhaps easier to understand once one realises that these machines are merely another form of communication. We have. of course, for centuries. been the world’s no. I communications-addicts – from novels, poetry and newspapers to colour television and video recorders. all of which sold fastest first in Britain.
It seems highly unlikely, however, that the euphoric British micro lead will last much longer. Partly in response to the arrival. or impending arrival, of our low priced computers, a savage price war broke out in the U.S. around the beginning of this year. and has now spread back to us. Computers which a few months ago seemed merely cheap are now practically free. Some computer manufacturers – the darlings of the stock market less than a year ago – are in desperate financial trouble, and stories of disaster are becoming more common than good news in the computer industry. Summer ’83 seems to have been particularly grim.
Added to which, there is, I believe. a cloud of disillusionment with the micro gathering on the horizon. Whatever the advertisements may claim, most microcomputers are still extremely difficult to use, and of very little use in the home apart from playing games. The fantastic computing ability of even the cheapest home computer is something for which very few homes have any imaginable need. Computer programming as a hobby does occasionally have a strong appeal, but only to a very limited number of people with a Times-crossword mentality and a great deal of leisure. Parents who bought home computers for their children in the hope of providing educational advancement and intellectual stimulation are discovering without enthusiasm that children are more interested in the computer’s ability to simulate space wars than solve problems. And even the attraction of space wars seems to fade. My own children, much envied testers of home microcomputers and software, seldom touch our machine now in spite of an expensive mountain of attractively packaged software by the TV set. Both children sometimes resent the way their micros compete with them for the attention of their friends. And the excitement of having a home computer is beginning to fade as computers become commonplace in both homes and schools.
Nevertheless, although suffering at the moment from absurdly-inflated reputations. microcomputers have come to stay, they are fairly important, and they will change our children’s lives and our own, although less, as a computer journalist aptly put it, than the bulldozer: or, for that matter, the car, the printing press or television.
It seems to me that computers are by and large far too well publicised, and far too badly explained. When we first started publishing books about computers two years ago, computer books and manuals were still written almost exclusively by experts. mainly for other experts. Although many of them were supposedly also suitable for beginners, as works of explanation they tended to be horrifyingly incompetent. The average computer or software manual contained (as many still do) impenetrable jargon, crucial misprints, and impossible exercises without answers. It seems clear that in the early days of the micro gold rush, excellence and care in the writing and editing of manuals had low priority.
The Usborne books of computing were so far as we are aware the world’s first full-colour computing books of their kind. We set out to explain a sophisticated range of information (including subjects, such as Machine Code programming, that almost everyone, except us, thinks are far too advanced) to absolute beginners, using the complete armoury of visual editorial techniques developed by us for more traditional subjects. Our first titles received tremendous critical acclaim, actually being reviewed twice within a few weeks in the Times Educational Supplement: our Guide to Computers was ‘quite simply the best introduction I have ever seen’ according to Personal Computer World.
This autumn we are publishing several new, ambitious and (I think) marvellously produced computer titles, including two new titles on Basic Programming. Inside the Chip, Computer Graphics, Practical Things to do with your Micro (there are some). Write Your Own Adventure Programs, and two books indirectly concerned with computers: Robotics (with instructions for building your own computer-controlled robot) and The Information Revolution.
Whether our computer books survive the war now developing in the blood-spattered computer jungle remains to be seen. But at least we’re having fun among the bugs and the bytes.
If it doesn’t work. there must still be a few new ways left of tackling dinosaurs again.
Information about new books published by Usborne.
Practise Your Basic, 0 86020 744 7 (hb), 0 86020 743 9 (pb)
Better Basic, 0 86020 734 X (hb), 0 86020 733 1 (pb)
Inside the Chip, 0 86020 730 7 (hb), 0 86020 729 3 (pb). November 1983
Practical Things to Do with Your Micro, 0 86020 732 3 (hb). 0 86020 731 5 (pb)
Write Your Own Adventure Program, 0 86020 742 0 (hb). 0 86020 741 2 (pb)
Robotics, 0 86020 725 0 (hb), 0 86020 724 2 (pb)
Information Revolution, 0 86020 727 7 (hb), 0 86020 726 9 (pb)
All hardbacks £3.95 each: all paperbacks £1.99 each.
Choosing What Books to Buy
Books about computers are roughly of three sorts.
- General background books about how computers have developed, how they work, what they can do etc. These books may try to cover all topics or concentrate on one or two.
- Guides to how to use/get more out of computers or a particular computer. More and more of these user books are being published for children and adults – possibly because the manuals the manufacturers produce are in the main not as easy to use as they could be, especially for younger readers.
- Two recent `machine specific’ books are First Steps with Your Spectrum, Carolyn Hughes (Armada. 0 00 692240 6, £1.25) and A Child’s Guide to the BBC Micro, John Dewhirst (Cambridge Educational, in a Schools Edition, 0 521 277310, and a Family Edition, 0 521 27730 2, both £3.95 paperback). Both combine lots of jolly cartoon drawings with activities at the keyboard to introduce the machine and what it can do (including graphics and making music). They also deal with writing simple programs. Both are written in an admirably clear style and the well thought out, step-by-step sequencing of activities should build confidence and engage interest. The Guide to the BBC Micro is particularly well-designed as a self-teaching text.
- Books about Programming.How-to-do-it books, like Usborne’s Introduction to Computer Programming (0 86020 674 2, £1.65), or collections of already written programs – most popularly of games – for the user to put onto the computer, with suggestions for alterations and adaptations and hints on writing your own program.
Usborne’s Computer Battlegames (0 86020 685 8, £ 1.95) and Computer Spacegames (0 86020 683 1, £1.99) and Puffin’s new Micro Games (0 14 03.1667 1, £1.50) are aimed at the users of most of the popular micros and so the programs have to include all the variations which the idiosyncracies of different machines make necessary – a problem for design and layout and even more for the reader if it isn’t solved successfully. Puffin’s Micro Games separates instructions for different computers clearly and cleanly. The Usborne books, perhaps because they are dealing with a more ambitious list of micros, have a more cramped and complicated layout which involves following symbols indicating the lines needed for different machines. (Fontana is one publisher avoiding the problem by producing machine specific books. Better Programming for Your Spectrum and ZX81, 0 00 636610 4. £2.95.. is the first of a new series.) Both Usborne and Puffin books explain how the programs work.
In this area too, some publishers are beginning to produce software packages.. programs on cassette to accompany their books.
What to buy will depend, as always, on what you need. User books obviously are no use in homes and classrooms which as yet have no microcomputer! But most book collections will need at least one general book about computers.
We asked a group of teacher librarians to review and test out some recent publications.
Terry Downie reports her and their findings.
Sam’s System (1982) Rosemary Court, ill. Patricia Calderhead. Dent 0 460 06121 6, £3.95
A Guide to Computers aimed, to judge from its `story’ treatment at Juniors. (Programmer ‘ Pete introduces Sam to Tak the Terminal, Pandora the Processor, the Bits, Sid Software etc. Finally Zip the Chip presents Sam with his own microcomputer.) Large print, lively, , jokey text and colour drawings. It’s a praiseworthy attempt to inform through fiction and on the whole it works. (The device falters when the author attempts to explain binary code through dialogue between Sam and 8 Bits!) The carefully graded language reads well: it’s interesting and involving. BUT it needs to be read sequentially and demands a long attention span which will limit its use by children alone. Those already familiar with computers are unlikely to need the fictional format – any novice can appreciate Tak the Terminal by pressing a few buttons – so it will probably be most useful in schools as yet without a micro. Could be read aloud.
We wished it had been done as an animated film or video.
The Computer Revolution (1983) David Jeremiah, Macmillan, Exploration and Discovery series. 0 333 32512 5, £3.95
A general look at computers and electronics (omitting language. code and programming) for juniors. Large illustrations and photographs, mostly in full colour. It caters for the age range by cutting down on detail so the depth of information is not great which would be no bad thing if the book was successful in what it did attempt. Unfortunately in striving for simple language it fails to make clear some rather fundamental points, like how a computer works. We wondered why they hadn’t made more use of simple diagrams. The glossary provides a good example of how ‘simplification’ doesn’t work.
Electronics: The study of the movement of electrons
Transistor: A small piece of electronics
Nice to think of computers being full of little bits of the study of something: but not very helpful if you are struggling with the basic concept.
There are better books available.
Computer Ian Graham, Collins, The Inside Story series, 0 00195102 5. £3.50
Junior-Lower Secondary. How a computer works and what it can be used for explained clearly. simply and attractively with a great many informative colourful diagrams and drawings. Well-judged level of detail for the interested beginner, enjoyable for dipping into. The book starts from where computers are now (no history) and deals quite well with how they work: the last two thirds concentrates on a wide range of applications The author touches on limitations and possible abuses but in the main is enthusiastic. A straight, `serious’ approach to explanation. Good glossary. A useful book.
Usborne’s Guide to Computers (1981) Brian Reffin Smith, 0 86020 542 8. £1.85
A great deal of information – broad rather than deep – presented in Usborne’s usual busy style. Visually lively with masses of bright colour drawings. The clear text, mostly captions, involves the reader by frequent use of ‘you’. We thought that at times the book went too far in striving to get to ‘kids’ level. (‘What is a computer?… a machine which “does things to stuff”) and we weren’t entirely happy about the fantasy drawing illustrating the parts of a computer as mini robots scampering through tunnels with bits of paper. But perhaps that is nit picking. Here is interesting browsing and dipping for Juniors and Lower Secondary – activities, games and puzzles are featured throughout – plus a good glossary, a short bibliography and a chronology of ‘computer firsts’. One of the first titles in this area and still good value in classrooms and libraries.
Usborne’s Guide to Understanding the Micro (1982) Judy Tatchell and Bill Bennett, 0 86020 637 8. £1.65
Mainly a manual with similar attractions and drawbacks to those described above. Informative, colourful, interesting; but the busy layout occasionally creates confusion for readers. Very practical, step-by-step instructions and sound general information for the beginner. It’s a general book so sprinkled with provisos and exceptions: ‘Not all micros have these keys.’ ‘These programs will not work on all micros.’
The second part explains computer components and chips, machine code and processing. There’s some history and an account of uses. The book ends with a useful buyers guide (lots of sensible advice) and a large glossary.
Recommended to all beginners. Excellent value.
Computers – How they work and what they do (1982) Patricia Fara, Pelham, 0 7207 1343 9, £4.95
This one has rather an old-fashioned look: something to do with the choice of colours, layout, long italicised captions. Small print and some grey photographs reduce visual appeal. However text and illustration convey quite detailed information. History, components and processes, programming and uses are all covered. Each section is given a double spread so the book can be dipped into or read sequentially. Should give top juniors and secondary pupils a sound basic grasp but without much excitement.
Suitable for the library: but livelier and cheaper books will replace it.
Computers and Mathematics (1982) Carol Gourlay, Macdonald Educational, Visual Science series, 0 356 07112 X, £4.95
The two title topics are of course related; but the book isn’t quite clear how to deal with the links. Information is made interesting: each topic has a large double spread with lots of quite attractive drawing and photography, mostly colour. It demands a lot of reading, but repays the effort.
Some sections on mathematics seem unrelated to those on computers. For instance a section on probability and statistics – What’s the Betting? – makes no mention of computers although it follows the section on computer hardware. This kind of jumping interferes with sequential reading. Other maths topics covered are graphs, sets, percentages. On computers we get programming, applications and a look at the future. A large glossary, a chronology, bibliography and list of computer facts and feats.
Could be useful in the library at the middle school range for kids who are prepared to read rather than scan: but a better editing job might have arranged the two elements of the book more appropriately.
Computers (1983) Neil Ardley, Kingfisher. 0 86272 052 4, £4.95 Secondary, possibly top junior. A well-conceived account which explains well. We like the arrangement of information. Sections on hardware, then software, with plenty of detail but very carefully worded to communicate the technicalities clearly: then chapters on the history and the impact of computers and finally how the computer works. This seems odd at first but in the event placing the most difficult concepts – the electronics – separately is very sensible. The clarity of explanation is maintained in this section.
Good glossary; short bibliography. Illustrations mainly colour with some rather dull black and white photographs. Diagrams clear and useful.
This is a lengthy text which, though well sub-divided demands and rewards willingness to read continuously rather than browse. Good solid information book for libraries.
Chips, Computers and Robots (1982) Judy Allen, Pepper Press, 0 237 45627 3, £4.25 Overpriced. Looks as if it was designed to sell cheaply but doesn’t. Quite short (54 pages) and only black and white. Illustrations are bold but opportunities to make clear by drawings are missed. Strange when so much care obviously went into designing the book.
The focus is on microelectronics, beginning with integrated circuits then computer language, components and operations. The second half looks at uses present and future, including robotics, with references to R2D2 and Marvin the paranoid android.
Language level is well judged for top juniors and lower secondary but the whole is patchy. Kids will be drawn to more colourful productions and probably learn more from them.
Computers (1982) Tom Fry. Granada Guides, 0 246 11895 4, £1.95. Starts with brief account of history and components: ends with brief section on uses and chips. The focus of the book is on machine code, operations and programming. Here the language is wordy, technical and requires the reader to cope with a lot of figures within the text and in diagrams. Not comfortable reading.
Large print, subheadings and frequent (but not particularly useful) illustrations; the overall impression is of being crammed. The technical sections are off-putting for the general reader; other parts too basic for the interested. Cheap, though.
Discovering Computers (1982) Mark Frank, Longman, 0 582 39061 3, £6.95. Secondary. A detailed account, with lengthy text and captions accompanying good photographs and drawings. It covers hard and software with considerable technical detail, looks at computer uses and considers social and technological implications. Each of the 43 sections has a large double spread with attractive layout and large print. Information is clear and thorough. A valuable library book for the pupil who is already using computers and wishes to read a sound account of their processes and functions. Expensive but worth it.
Microprocessors Today (1982) Robin Webster, Kaye and Ward, 0 7182 0463 8. £4.95. Secondary. There is a chapter on ‘the anatomy of a computer’ which is clear and succinct: but the book’s main purpose is to describe the significance of computers in the information and communications revolution and to query the social and technological implications. It does this most interestingly. There is a demanding level of language and thought but the use of short paragraphs gives an effective punchy style.
It ranges widely in reference looking at the effects of Gutenberg, the Turing Test of machine intelligence. George Eliot’s essay, `Shadows of the Coming Race’ which debates human fears of ‘the subtly refined power of machines’. A stimulating and challenging book. Recommended for libraries. Reading, thinking pupils who are already involved with computers or those who, like many people, are nervous of them will appreciate the issues raised here:
Glossary. Black and white illustration.
Kids and Computers (1983) Eugene Galanter, Kingfisher, 0 86272 049 4, £5.95
The author is the founder and director of The Children’s Computer School in New York and enthusiastically and totally committed to the idea that teaching children to programme is valuable. The book is a useful and interesting guide for parents or teachers who are or would like to be involved with children and computers. The style is conversational so it reads well but the content is often detailed and technical so it’s demanding for all that.
Explains how micro computers work, advises on buying. Covers the need for and nature of computer education very thoroughly (the book is written for a British audience) and including an extensive section on programming for, by, and with children. Lengthy glossary and list of basic terms. One for the staff library?
Computers-How They Work, (1983) The Electronic Revolution Series, Nigel Hawkes. Franklin Watts, 0 86313 0593, £4.25.
A book which sets out to give a simple explanation of what a computer is, how it works and what it can do-and succeeds. Jargon (input, output, processing. RAM. ROM etc.) is carefully explained along with information about different sorts of computers. In the central section Machine Code, the binary system, ‘bits’, ‘bytes’, computer logic are dealt with in a series of page spreads which need to be read sequentially for full understanding. The ideas here are complex and demanding but the spacious layout and large type make the book look ‘easy’ and readable. The language is carefully judged for a newcomer to computers and the friendly tone makes understanding seem eminently possible.
Sections in graphics, talking computers and ‘Linking up’. via networks. modems and satellites demonstrate present trends and future possibilities. Only 24 pages of text which seems a lot for £4.25: but it’s worth having the quality of the explanations. Many books with more words, pictures and pages end up only confusing the reader.
Computer World ( 1983), Jacquetta Megarry. Kingfisher Factbook (hardback) 0 86272 070 2, £2.95.
Piccolo Factbook (paperback) 0 330 26980 1 , £1.50.
As the title suggests this book tries to get everything about computers into ninety closely-packed pages. It opens with a useful section. Can Computers Think? and motes on through )inter the Microchip, Inside the Computer. I low does it Work?, Computers in Life and Microfuture. Diagrams, photographs, drawings. graphs, charts – even a program, (Hunt the Hurkle) appear frequent) and in full colour. Somehow the page is so busy with illustrations and captions it’s difficult to concentrate on the text. The last 20 pages are Further Facts (!) (no colour in this bit) including Computer Firsts, More Programming. Binary puzzles, Computer puzzles, careers in computing. etc., etc. Language is more Secondary than Junior (except for junior computer freaks) but there is an excellent device of putting all unfamiliar words in bold type and explaining them in an extensive and good glossary. Useful index too.
It’s all a bit crowded but good value if you calculate ideas and information per penny.
Present Challenges – Future Prospects
Neil Ardley, the author of three computer books published this autumn, talks to Richard Hill
RH. You have three books about Computers published this year, Neil. All different. and each with a particular age of reader in mind. How did your approach to them vary?
NA. Let’s start with Computers, which I did for Kingfisher. What I wanted to do with that book was to give anyone from about 13 upwards who is moderately interested in computers a good background on how they work and what they can do. It’s a sort of computers without tears. To me that means trying to avoid jargon, and trying to explain concepts very simply: not necessarily by using analogies which I think can put people wrong. but by saying as clearly and concisely as I can what goes on, in a way that age of reader will understand.
RH. What sort of problems did you encounter?
NA. Funnily enough my biggest problems came from the experts who were advising me. We had two very good consultants and they would come up with a lot of improvements and ideas: but they had a very professional approach to computing and it is difficult putting that into ordinary terms that people can understand. I get worried about words like ‘digitize’ and ‘data’ and even ‘information’ which can be very ambiguous.
RH. This wasn’t your first computer book.
NA. Oh no. I’d been over some of the problems already in an eight book series I did with Franklin Watts called The World of Tomorrow. We were looking at the way our lives might be in the future and of course computers came into a lot of that. The series was for slightly younger readers than Computers but I knew how I would present the ideas. The material in Computers that I had never handled before for children was the last section on what goes on inside a computer. the electronics. That was the part I enjoyed most. It was a very interesting problem.
RH. Your other newest computer books are also for Franklin Watts.
NA. Yes. Following The World of Tomorrow we started a series called Action Science, practical science books for 8-l l’s. It seemed obvious to me that one should be about the computer.
RH. Now this is something different from a general background book like Computers.
NA. Quite different. It’s called Using the Computer and basically it’s about how to programme a computer. To write it I sat down with a computer – a Sinclair ZX81 because I knew most children wouldn’t have anything more sophisticated than that – and wrote a series of simple programs. tested them and came up with the basis for the book.
RH. So it’s what some publishers call a user book. I’ve heard another phrase – Machine Specific.
NA. This book is not machine specific. Because it’s a first book for young children it restricts itself to the more simple commands that are found on all micros. and you can use it with any computer. I tried out all the programs on other computers – like the BBC micro – to make sure they were compatible.
RH. When you’ve got the programs what are the problems connected with putting together a how-to-use-it book.
NA. The main problems are putting over the logic involved in constructing a simple program and explaining the basics of BASIC: What PRINT means. using quote marks, being careful with semi-colons. things like that. They are not difficult but I try to make it very clear. We use drawings and diagrams to supplement the ideas. and cartoons to liven things up. There is a very nice cartoon that David Jefferis, our designer. worked out to show how IF-THEN statements work. IF-THEN is a very fundamental command in computer language and this cartoon of our robot cycling towards a bull behind a gate explains, with a humorous touch. exactly what happens. The logic is very apparent: you can apply it back in the program and see how it works.
RH. But the book is not only about explaining.
NA. Oh no, it’s primarily an activity book. getting the readers involved in doing things on the computer. Involvement and entertainment are the best motivators to learning. I try to get that in any kind of writing for children. That goes for design too. just as much as writing. We try to make the layout and illustration in our books functional and good. With design and writing you can’t just do it to please yourself as a great creative exercise, you have to start from the reader’s point of view. A First Look at Computers (just published) is for 7-8 year olds. It’s a basic information book about how computers work and what they can do. Some of the things in it are also in The World of Tomorrow series and Computers but we thought hard about what to include and particularly about the language and the design for younger children. That was difficult – trying to reduce things to very simple terms and get it right without over-simplifying.
RH. Have you spent much time with children talking about computers and computer use.
NA. My daughter who is just 11 and her friends are starting to get into computers. She has been through the Sinclair and the BBC Computer with me. trying out my programs. Most children I’ve found take to computers like ducks to water. I think that’s because there are simple rules and commands that they can learn easily by rote, and once they have got that they try it out and it works every time. You get magic results just from a few simple things.
RH. What about computers in schools?
NA. It all seems to be beginning and it’s very exciting. I’m working on producing some educational software, and for the Action Science series we have liaised with the Teachers’ Centre in Hounslow. Teachers are setting out to find what can be done, what is useful, what works in the classroom and what doesn’t, and publishers are trying to find that out as well. There are simply a lot of different things around at the moment: everyone is trying to find a direction in which to go. I think computers have enormous potential in education. Working on how to use the interactive aspect of computers in teaching is fascinating.
RH. Tell me about some of the things you have been doing.
NA. To go with the Action Science series we are doing a set of programs on cassette to use with the BBC Computer. The software is really an extension of the book. For Working with Water for instance we have done a really good moving graphic program to show why things float. That’s a difficult concept. There is a description in the book but the program makes it much easier to understand. Then there’s a program about water resources which is an area we don’t cover in the book. It’s a decision-making program which makes the child the manager of a reservoir. You have to decide how to `spend’ your water: for making power to produce goods, to irrigate the crops, to use in homes? You have information about how much rain is likely to fall and what season it is: then you have to decide how and where to use it. If you do it well you amass millions of pounds! And then, of course, we have written programs for quizzes to test understanding.
RH. Do you see this as the way forward for computer books?
NA. Well it’s certainly one way. For teaching science you need to do experiments to develop understanding: the computer can help the teacher take these experiments a bit further by simulations. extending in a way you couldn’t in the classroom. I’d like to get into doing projects in which the book and the computer are much more interdependent even than that, using the book for what it does best and the computer for its interactive potential.
RH. Do you think we shall see these integrated packages being developed in the next two or three years?
NA. I would be very surprised if you didn’t. Lots of publishers have gone overboard on computer user books. Putting computer user books together with information books to come up with something integrated seems a likely trend. When we talk about computers in schools it won’t be totally learning how to programme. In fact that may not be a major part at all. People will be getting programs to learn from. We don’t teach children how to print books, we teach them how to read and use them.
How much expertise that sort of development will need within the editorial office I don’t know. I suspect quite a lot. I think we are going to have to have computer literate editors to work with authors and I don’t suppose there are too many around at the moment. Sue Unstead, my editor at Franklin Watts, knows her way around a computer now. We’ve got our experience together. working on this project over the past couple of years, trying to find out what the computer can do.
RH. Maybe this is an impossible question but how do you see the place of the book in a computer age?
NA. At the moment the book is still a very easy way to obtain information. It is easy to flip backwards and forwards quite quickly. With home computers at present it’s a little hard to do that. But I’m not convinced that that is going to remain so. As memory capacity increases and disc drives become more common instead of the cassettes we have now home computers will become far more flexible.
It’s possible to create a set of well-written programs that would include everything that’s in, say, my book Computers. But it wouldn’t be the same and it wouldn’t look anywhere near as good! Still, over the long term, maybe in not more than ten years. I would think that books will begin to disappear. Eventually, inevitably it’s going to be far cheaper to produce something in electronic form than felling trees to get paper, having books printed, distributed and so on. It’s quite possible that if you wanted you could have something book-size with a flat screen. liquid crystal display (but much more easy on the eye than the present ones) and you’d press a switch to turn the pages. The hardware is going to improve and develop along with the software and changes will come in line with what people want and what they can best use. And of course you’ll be able to receive your flat screen book down the telephone line or over the air possibly. You won’t have to go to the book shop to buy it, or even to the library.
RH. The consequences of this computer revolution, this information revolution are potentially as powerful as those of the industrial revolution.
NA. It’s bound to have huge cultural and social effects. Because it deals in information the book world is likely to see changes very soon. But it’s impossible to predict exactly how it will go. I don’t suppose when the industrial revolution started many people foresaw the great movement towards cities and the consequent social deprivation. Very soon we won’t needprinters, typists, eventually we probably won’t need postmen and librarians. It’s obviously going to be resisted, but it’s there: it could happen.•
Neil Ardley was born in Surrey in 1937, and took a degree in science at Bristol University. He worked briefly as a research chemist and patent assistant before becoming an editor for the international edition of World Book Encyclopedia from 1962 to 1966. There he learned the craft of publishing literally from A to Z. He then worked as a natural history editor at Hamlyn for two years before setting out as a freelance editor and author. He has since written more than fifty information books on science, natural history (particularly birds) and music, and contributed to many reference works.
Ardley has also been active as a composer, mainly in jazz and electronic music, and is known for the albums Kaleidoscope of Rainbows ( 1976) and Harmony of the Spheres (1979). He works in a small house in Bedford Park in London, but his home is in Derbyshire in the Peak District. His wife Bridget researches the questions for the television programme Mastermind, leaving the odd science question to her husband. They have one daughter, Jane, who is 11.
Computers, Kingfisher Books, 0 86272 052 4, £4.95
The World of Tomorrow series, Franklin Watts, £4.25 each
Transport on Earth. 0 85166 905 0
Out into Space, 0 85166 906 9
Tomorrow’s Home, 0 85166 931 X
School, Work and Play, 0 85166 932 8
Our Future Needs. 0 85166 949 2
Health and Medicine, 0 85166 951 4
Future War and Weapons, 0 85166 950 6
Fact and Fantasy, 0 85166 952 2
Action Science Series, Franklin Watts, £4.25 each
Working with Water, 0 86313 021 6 (Software package available)
Using the Computer. 0 86313 022 4, 0 86313 068 2, £1.95 (pb) (Software package available)
Hot and Cold, 0 86313 023 2
Sun and Light, 0 86313 024 0
(Eight more titles in preparation)
First Look at Computers. Franklin Watts, 0 86313 017 8. £3.25