Biological systems continually tinker. The human brain is especially good at tinkering—at finding new uses for biological and technological developments.
The Human Brain
A brain is a central concept in animal biology because even single cell animals must process survival information about thermal, chemical, and/or light variations. More complex animals developed brains that could recognize and respond to additional environmental challenges. For example, social species need an efficient communication system that incorporates basic skills with the ability to determine content and identify appropriate recipients.
Human spoken communication was initially wireless. Sound waves moved rhythmically between a mouth and nearby ears. Body language enhanced meaning. It worked nicely for most of human existence until the late 19th century, when the telephone expanded the range of spoken communication.
The original telephone had a single purpose. It allowed two people separated at a considerable distance to converse via a connecting wire. That arrangement (a decided improvement over the telegraph) worked well for over 100 years, but we’re now experiencing a 21st century communication revolution.
Even with ubiquitous phone booths, the wire was a problem, since it determined and thus limited the location of the two conversing people. Because wireless radio transmits to anyone within a broad area, adapting that concept into a wireless phone became an intriguing challenge.
Advances in computer and satellite technology during the last part of the 20th century led to small, computerized, wireless mobile phones that were relatively inexpensive but very powerful. Developers realized that incorporating additional useful functions into a mobile phone would increase its appeal and so spread and decrease costs.
Wireless phones thus also became miniature cameras and computers—transmitting pictures and text as well as speech, and recording important information, such as appointments.
Personal spoken and written communication typically involve acquaintances, or at least folks with shared interests. Authors thus have a problem. They know what to write, but they don’t know who wants to read it.
Book authors historically went through publishers and bookstores to reach potential readers, who then had to purchase the book before they could read it. One problem is that book publishers must be selective, so it’s difficult to get a manuscript accepted, and then editors and reviewers may demand changes the author doesn’t want to make.
Reducing such hassles through self-publishing became a possibility with the development of computerized formatting systems. The major problem in book publishing however isn’t in printing the book, but rather in distributing it—locating the potential readers.
Authors aren’t alone in this dilemma. The world has more paintings than gallery walls, more compositions than concerts, more plays than stages.
Not to worry. Evolutionary biology continually adapts to new brain challenges; mobile phones solved the limitations of a wire-based phone system and added functions for good measure; and creative authors and the Internet are now solving many book-publishing and distribution limitations.
David Moursund, a widely respected scholar and prolific author in the field of computers in education, is an example. Several years ago, he decided that he would simply bypass the normal publishing venues and post and publicize his books and articleson the Internet—making them available free to anyone who wants to download (and possibly print) them.
Just as wireless phones allowed folks who are anywhere to converse with others who are anywhere, so the wired/wireless Internet led to the development of various kinds of websites—including blogs and interactive sites such as YouTube and MySpace that allow folks to distribute personal information to friends and anyone else without recompense.
Authors such as Dr. Moursund who post their books free on the Internet will similarly get no financial reward from their efforts. Further, publishing success is an important professional requirement for university professors. Self—publishing (whether via paper or Internet posting) isn’t peer—reviewed, and so it contributes very little to a faculty member’s progress towards promotion and tenure.
On the other hand, academic publishing rarely results in substantial royalties, and academics such as Dr. Moursund who have already reached the top of the academic ladder don’t need the peer review so necessary to beginning academics. The positive result of this new Internet publishing development is that it provides educators and others with free easy access to the continuing work of established scholars.
Three recent K-12 examples of Dr. Moursund’s informative free books are: A Parents’ Guide to Computers in Education(2006), Introduction to Using Games in Education: A Guide for Teachers and Parents(2006), and Computers in Education for Talented and Gifted Students: A Book for Elementary and Middle School Teachers(2006).
For the entire list of Dr. Moursund’s excellent books, articles, and other free materials, log on to: http://uoregon.edu/~moursund/dave/Free.html
In addition to the private publication of books exemplified above, several organizations are now placing many thousands of out of copyright books into this free (open source) format. For example, (1) Project Gutenberg has 20,000 out of copyright books in its on-line library (www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page), (2) The Million Book Project at Carnegie Mellon University focuses on the free availability of scholarly materials (www.library.cmu.edu/Libraries/MBP_FAQ.html), and (3) The Google Books Library Project is digitizing many millions of books. ( books.google.com/googlebooks/library.html). It provides basic bibliographic information about the book and a few sentences that provide context for the search term. Links direct the searcher to online bookstores and libraries. Out of copyright books can be downloaded.
So it comes down to this-when we humans confront a problem, we tinker with it. The result generally improves the quality of our life. I suspect that some frustrated unpublished author who was raised on Google will soon figure out how to publish a book free on the Internet, and still collect money for it. How nice that we have a tinkering brain.