People who read this blog - or, for that matter, read about it in other publications - will know that digital doubters like Sven Birkerts, Nick Carr, Lee Siegel and others with misgivings large or small about where IT is taking us, are treated respectfully here. Even Michael Gorman.
When Birkert's Gutenberg Elegies came out in 1994 (!), it stood out in contrast to the glib Californian internet evangelism of the day as a beautifully written and serious consideration of issues that are still important today; in particular, the intense privacy of the reading experience, and the threat to that kind of privacy that connectedness poses. But hey, the world moves along, and at some point, the steady drone of an axe grinding becomes tedious. I'm afraid Birkerts has reached that point now, with his recent piece in the Atlantic about his resistance to the Kindle. I will still read him gladly on literature, but suffer him less gladly on technology. In Resisting the Kindle he seems to argue that reading a book on a screen - never mind which book - somehow diminishes the reading experience - and the culture of writing and reading - by decontextualizing it. Huh? He explains:
But we should not forget that the sum of reader-text encounters creates our cultural landscape. So if it happens that in a few decades—maybe less—we move wholesale into a world where information and texts are called onto the screen by the touch of a button, and libraries survive as information centers rather than as repositories of printed books, we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators.
To me this sounds a bit contrived - nicely put perhaps, but you can't help notice the speaker is standing in a a corner with wet paint all around. In In Defense of the Kindle, rare books librarian Matthew Battles responds. Like Birkerts, Battles is a serious, scholarly sort with a reverence for books and learning (and the author of Library: an Unquiet History ) but he argues - very persuasively, I think - that the digitized ease of access that an apparatus like the Kindle provides, will promote the culture of letters rather than undermine it. In the following passage Battles does Birkerts a disservice, however:
When someone at a party he [Birkerts] attends responds to a question about Wallace Stevens by calling a Stevens poem up on his BlackBerry, he frets that we may be "gradually letting go of Wallace Stevens as the flesh-and-blood entity he was, and accepting in his place a Wallace Stevens that is merely the sum total of his facts."
This incident took place at a poetry reading, not a party.