Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Future of the Book - post II

This is starting to become challenging not just in terms of keeping up with the arguments but keeping track of the references, which are coming thick and fast.

Chapter 2: The Pragmatics of the new: Trithemius, McLuhan, Cassiodorus by James O’Donnell.

By looking at several critics of change the point is made that resistance to change is not a new phenomenon. Neither of course is trying to predict how the future will impact books and publishing.

If anything the prophets of doom (McLuhan) have turned out to have been wrong. Others (Trithemius) have been more concerned with protecting the status quo. But there is a questioning about the whole obsession with books.

“It is not strange that we take the spoken word, the most insubstantial of human creations, and try through textuality to freeze it forever; and again, try to give the frozen words of those who are dead and gone, or at least far absent, control over our own experience of the lived here and now?” pg 54


“Books are only secondary bearers of culture.” Pg 54 making the point that western civilisation is as much to be examined as its physical output.

Chapter 3: Material Matters: The past and futurology of the book by Paul Duguid

Technology often fails to deliver what it promises and so the question of leaping too quickly to sweeping generalisations about the future is difficult.

(This probably explains why so many publishers ignored the ebook threat for so long).

“Liberationalists hold, as another much-quoted aphorism has it, that ‘information wants to be free’ and that new technology is going to free it. The book, by contrast, appears never to have shaken off its restrictive medieval chains”. Pg 65


You have to understand the social and material complexity posed by books. Before technology can replace the book its 360 degree position in society has to be understood.

You cannot dismiss the past because if you do so it would be at the risk of losing heritage, learning and intelligence.

The book was the authority when it was read and produced in isolated rural environments but then became something to enjoy more casually as the gentry started to emerge in towns.

“In all then, I suggest it’s important to resist announcements of the death of the book or the more general insistence that the present has swept away the past or that new technologies have superseded the old. To refuse to accept such claims is not, however, to deny that we are living through important cultural; or technological changes.” Pg 72.


Books and information are interdependent and the idea of liberating information from the book is one that he challenges. He warns that it is easy to praise information and demonise the book.

Things then go off slightly with some stuff on hypertext with the argument that hypertext has existed for donkey's years in the form of footnotes and as a result those expecting some sort of reading revolution might well be dissapointed.

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