“Because it is not possible to read all books on a given subject, much less the totality of all books, or to organize easily everything one has read, learning from books places a premium on conceptual thinking - the ability to recognize comparable data and events and project patterns into the future. And style propels the reader into a relationship with the author, or with the subject matter, by fusing substance and aesthetics.”
(Emphasis mine.) His context is concern that the availability of information on-demand (thanks to the Internet) threatens to undermine the acquisition of actual knowledge. The result, is that as individuals we expect to “look up” answers to problems rather than think them through using the broader context of history and experience.
I’ve encountered this interviewing job candidates — they’ve learned the “right” answer to some questions, but once we get beyond those memorized responses many are unable to use their knowledge and experience to answer things the don’t yet know.
That said, I don’t agree that, “The acquisition of knowledge from books provides an experience different from the Internet.” The Internet is just a different delivery mechanism.
When I consider my team at Google, I would hope that beyond sharing specific coding tips, we’re able to teach developers the knowledge required to solve new problems. As such, you’ll (hopefully) notice that our presenters are increasingly fusing substance and aesthetics to form stronger relationships with you (our audience).
I think the same truth can be applied to software — both substance and aesthetics are necessary, but neither alone is sufficient, to form a real relationship with your users.