Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Week 3 - History of the Book response

It is necessary to divide out the cultural linguistic understanding of what text based language is with textual narrative. Text is a created and aggreed upon visual representation of human language. Like any other form of language, it is constantly evolving. Evolving in the Darwinian sense, not the social evolutionary sense. This evolution does not make textual language better over time, it only changes it. Textual narrative is the process of using this language to create and structure social meaning. 'Books,' be they papyrus scrolls or e-readers are used to store this textual narrative.

It is interesting to note that historically any new technology for transmitting this narrative is predominantly first used to plagiarize works and disseminate pornography. Yes, technology changes, but basic human behaviors and motivations do not. It is said our society now is creating more knowledge in minutes than entire previous civilization's created. We will need to find convenient and appropriate ways to store and transmit this information. We're doing the same things humanity has always done- creating narrative, transmitting culture; we're just doing them in different ways now. Each narrative, book, scroll, and so on has it's own meaning in situ. It is not so much that the item or language is changing and updating, our beliefs surrounding it are as well. Books used to be similar in value to serious hard currency, one could tell how wealthy one was by the number of books in their collection. This monetary value of books is not currently viable because culture has changed and therefore our value of our artifacts has also transformed.

Linguistic mediums do not generally die, they just adapt along with the new mediums introduced. Photography didn't kill painting, radio didn't end writen documents, television didn't kill radio, and the internet has not killed television. Our usage patterns changed, but the fundamental linguistic technology remained sticky.


  1. I agree with Shillingsburg that “losing the book as a material object is one of the negative consequences of technology”. Books have been around for the last three to five hundred years. It would be a shame to lose the book as a material object but society is fortunate that it took this long for technology to change the platform in which we read text. Other technology such as music and movie formats has changed significantly in less than 40 years. Music formats have gone from Eight-track to cassette tapes to compact disks and now to MP3 and other downloadable formats. Movie formats have gone from video tapes to dvd’s to Blue Ray disks and now to downloadable movies within the last 40 years.
    A definition of a book is “A set of written, printed, or blank pages fastened along one side and encased between protective covers”. The book is done if we go by this definition. On the other hand this definition could change based on the technology and if society accepts the e book or other digital formats as the new “book”.
    Jen’s comment of that the photography did not kill paintings, internet did not kill television and so on is accurate. It is up to the medium to adapt to the changing environment and make adjustments as needed. For example the newspaper industry is aware that the printed piece is not in high demand as it once was. Instead of letting the newspaper “die” they adjusted the strategy and offer the news online for those people that want accessible information. This is similar to the book in that some people now do not want to carry hard copies; they prefer to carry one item with a few books uploaded to the eBook for convenience and accessbililty.

  2. Reflecting within the context of medium and message; it seems that - the transition of one medium to the other in a way paved way for the death of a medium while the message remained. For example "news paper" - printed news on paper might die; eventhough the "news" is carried on by a newer medium - online news streams. Some time when these newer forms emerge - can we call them by the same name? It seems that methodoogies/technologies do die, while the message moves on.

  3. We keep stating that the newspaper will die, but many people who read the news online also read the physical paper as well,generally over 75% It's fundamentally an experience thing, with the online newspaper you are missing out on the whole restful personal experience of newspapers. People will probably only make the shift to new technologies fully as publishing houses force them to, like Blu-Ray manufacturers and studios got together to force out DVD's. The only problem is that consumers don't get anything tangible to keep of the book, so like when iPods etc fail, people could lose their whole libraries quite easily. Visions of a modern Library of Alexandria style epic failure, we could wind up losing significant chunks of our civilization's narrative through virtualizing our knowledge.. (Ominous music sounds..)