Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Onward Robots!

Dennis Johnson, over at Melville House, wrote this really good little thing about print and ebooks:

He writes about his feeling that "there is a deep-seated respect in our culture — still — for the importance of the printed book and, no less important, there is an equally deep-seated affection for it. We shouldn’t let the mindless din of a few, loud and nasty as they are, obscure that, nor bully us into failing to champion great technology — old or new."

Too right.  The loudest are so often the wrongest.  And there are some LOUD folks in a lot of discussions about e-readers and print texts, hellbent, it seems, on creating one of those false binaries between Print People and, oh I don't know, Kindle People.  Observe:

Get it?  Kindle People--those only-slightly-smarmy pillars of elegance and casualness--privilege efficiency and simplicity, while Book People--those hard-headed luddites--privilege stupid shit like carrying around stuff in big bags.  Is it any wonder they are meeting in that weird empty white purgatory where the "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" guys met?  This is apparently the space where people go to identify themselves as this or that technology, or, in the case of those Progressive commercials, to buy car insurance.

Anyhoo, here's where I'm going with this:  Books are technologies with affordances and constraints.  So are e-readers.  Let's be a little quieter about all this.  Gunther Kress wrote this about reading and writing technologies and literacy in the New Media Age:

"My sense of what is needed above all is some stocktaking, some reflection, a drawing of breath, and the search for the beginnings of answers to questions such as: Where are we?  What have we got here?  What remains of the old?  What is common about the making of representations and messages between then and now and in the likely tomorrow?  I think that what we need are new tools for thinking with, new frames in which to place things, in which to see the old and new, and see them both newly."

That was in 2003.  It could've been written last year or 1973 or 1497 or 220 BCE.  It'll probably need to be written again in 3772.  Technological developments tend to make us louder than we need to be.

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