Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Gutenberg Elegies - post I

The book is set up in an introduction that explains that although things might have seemed a lot more reactionary when it first appeared in 1996 and even Birkert’s has to admit he uses technology and cannot be a complete luddite the fears remain.

Key among those fears is that something that he views as being key to not only our development but also the very nature of our souls could be removed by technology. The printed world and the way it is consumed is something that is almost holy for Birkerts.

The problem in his argument starts to appear already in the first chapter. He describes watching an old film and then using the backdrop of Jude the Obscure as a way of trying to recapture a past that is gone.

The issue here is whether or not those people in the past were better off. They may have been able to lead a more simple existence with far fewer material objects cluttering up their ability to read and think. But they embraced advances like the steam train and we are all human and you suspect that they would have also embraced the technology that we have now, it just wasn’t on offer then.

But you have to be careful here that you don’t get too opposed from the start. The points about finding the space to breathe, read and think are valid ones. But working patterns, a global economy as much as digital text have changed the way we read.

Chapter two next…

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