I grew up as an avid reader and would often be found with my nose in a compelling fantasy book rather than going out to the movies with my friends. In recent years, I have turned to ebooks as my source to continue my passion for reading and I owe a lot of thanks to Project Gutenberg founder and ebook inventor Michael S. Hart for his lifelong work. Mr. Hart passed away this week at the young age of just 64 after inventing the ebook back in 1971.
His obituary is posted on the Project Gutenberg website and here are some excerpts that I found of particular interest.
Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.
Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.
In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: "One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job."
I love that last quote Michael made just last month and never really thought much about the fact that you truly can get as much as you want and can never read all the ebooks that are available. I have hundreds of ebooks waiting to be read on my Kobo eReader Touch Edition and have Michael to thank in large part for making this a reality. I pray that Michael's family is comforted during this time and that we continue his legacy to help all of the world seek and enjoy literature.
In honor of Michael's death, I encourage you to share the Project Gutenberg website with others where they can discover over 36,000 free ebooks to read and enjoy for years to come.