Imprimatur igitur (Therefore let it be printed)

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The lingering hegemony of print is an remnant of the technology's obstreperous history. Early pioneers of publishing recognized the power of written language and took measures to assure their dominance over it; in addition to the fact that the most important texts were printed exclusively in the language of the elite, their content was strictly regulated. One such publishing organization, the Catholic Church, practiced a multi-tiered review process during which an ordained individual must read the text and affirm that it contained nihil contra sanctae fidei dogmata, vel probatos mores (nothing against the dogmas of the sacred faith or accepted morals). Only then could the publisher declare "imprimatur igitur" (therefore let it be printed) [1].

KIND OF LIKE ACADEMIC PEER REVIEW AND EXCLUSIONARY JOURNALS?!?!?! Haha no, that's not where I'm going. Although I did go there.

Books have enjoyed an almost sacred status for the majority of their existence, as artifacts capable of communicating the highest forms of wisdom, knowledge, and beauty that the human mind can express. They spread like viruses, infecting societies with literacy until they can no longer be so easily controlled, but they still possess significant power. They are collected, but also destroyed; distributed far and wide, yet also kept secret. They are physical, but also magical; people form real relationships with books and develop powerful feelings about them.

Now, suddenly, the concept of a book faces obsolescence. Publishers are losing what little control they retained over the written word-- the means of production are now potentially within reach of anyone, and digitization means that even the costs associated with transporting blocks of ink and paper around the world are of no consequence. As indicated by the NY Times piece, a schism is taking place. The issue is so deeply rooted in our culture that even families are divided. To some, the idea of abandoning the physical book is abhorrent-- considering the role of books in human society up to this point, this should come as no surprise. There are certainly a lot of books floating around the world by now, it would kind of be a shame to turn them all into toilet paper.

Yet here we are, moving from the "hegemony of print" to the "cult of the book." People born just slightly after me are far less likely to feel attachment towards books, and in another generation, maybe nobody will. Maybe, instead of books, there will just be a single digital repository which is accessible through various interfaces, and it will be called "The Big Floating Human Knowledge Bubble Experience." One thing that I'm sure of is that, unless that show Revolution happens for real, we're not going backwards, and written language is definitely still a virus.

[1] Knowledge gained from a book which was very influential to me , Stephen Jay Gould's The Hedgehog, The Fox, and The Magister's Pox.

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Comments

Transforming Books

While books were revered at first as symbols of elite status or confined to the Church, they quickly (more or less) became accessible to the average person when literacy rates started rising and institutions like libraries began operating. I think that throughout that time, however, they remained not sacred but close to it. We are shocked when we hear of book burning, when in reality only paper is burning. Books have been so ingrained into our lives and used so often as a learning tool that people dare not even think of destroying them on purpose (besides the occasional doodle in a textbook). And yet some books are not worth preserving, in my opinion. Would the world really suffer for one less romance novel or badly written young adult fiction? It's the textbooks and iconic novels that people are so keen on protecting, not the stuff you hide under your mattress when your parents are around. I've gotten completely off track from what I originally meant to say, but there you go.

The idea of books being abandoned is one I can sympathize with, but the fact is that the books' content is not being abandoned, only transformed. The ideas and words of the books are still being produced, just in a different format than before. Yes, physical books are still around and will continue to be around for quite some time, but books themselves will never disappear.

Will's picture

The Cloud

Mr. F,

You can already see "The Big Floating Human Knowledge Bubble Experience" developing though cloud computing. I put an idea into the cloud and tag it, and then you can find it by searching for a tag. Will all of human knowledge one day be in this cloud? What if the cloud decides to float away one day? Could we catch it? There is still some archaic thrill of carrying a book. It guards against the cloud from floating away.