Origins ( Written prior to the eGuide...)
WAY BACK before the advent of television, and even further ahead of the widespread use of computers, books were the dominant if not the only source of reference. With the arrival of the first black-and-white televisions, and later, colour television, it was expected that this new medium would replace books as the dominant source of leisure entertainment and reference for learning.
But not so. It seems that new experiences through television and computers broadened enthusiasm or need for further experience of the subject, and often it is the printed word that provides this additional information. While the electronic world of computers can gather the answers to an on-line query from the millions of networked computers around the globe, it lacks the simple reliability of the book.
On the other hand, with the publishing of a book being so expensive, and with a cost to the buyer for every copy of a book, the potential financial losses possible from an inaccurate or unattractive book are such that most books are thoroughly researched and edited.
Each of these media has its strengths, and it is in the area of guidebooks for outdoor use that the book retains a position that the computer will take some time to challenge. A book can be opened, accessed almost immediately, without boot-up time or menus to work through.
The computer is reliant on power or battery, delicate electronic and mechanical parts, and the presence of a connection to the internet or similar system. The negligible cost of placing information into, and from the world wide web, is both its strength and its weakness.
A guidebook, soft-covered, made of flexible paper, an be crammed into a backpack, tossed into the bottom of a canoe, dropped, bent, written into, It can be used for pressing an occasional flower sample, needs no batteries, left in the furnace-like interior of a locked car parked under tropical sun, yet gives answers as immediate and reliable as ever...
Perhaps there's some reverse status symbol in owning the most dilapidated, widely travelled, obviously heavily used guide, with written notes, corrections, ticks, and underlinings.
The guidebook is almost indestructible, short of a spell underwater, or a shorter time in the campfire. But nor are these events the best for the laptop computer .
Undeniably the computer has many advantages. At present its advantages as a reference are greatest when it can be put on-line from home, rather than while in the bush. The ability to keep information up-to-date is an advantage, without the cost of buying a copy of the newest edition of the book (which even then is months or many years behind the latest bird news and updates) Some guides have been updated as new editions, at intervals of several years, but others have been decades between updates.
For many subjects, this is not a really important issue. A field guide five or ten years out of date will still give you the names of 95 per cent or more, of the birds you will meet. But if you must have the latest classifications, the most recent splits and subspecies debates, the new sightings of rare species and new arrivals.... or find where to go next week to see a certain bird, under the prevailing climatic conditions, then the on-line computer is far superior
To give the best of both worlds, this on-line backup is being constructed, as a service and small bonus to users of the MM field guide. It will concentrate upon updates and supplementary information, and birdwatch travel and location information, recent sightings, etc, to give the guide book some of the advantages of the computer. How useful this will be, time will tell.
Notes from the computer can be printed out before bush trips, the paper book updated, with name changes etc pasted or written in...up-dated, though not as neat and clean as a new copy.