Or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the screen.”
In the March 2nd edition of The Atlantic Sven Birkerts laments the way that the Kindle and other new technologies are eroding “a certain kind of cultural understanding.” This is not the first time Birkerts has made this appeal. His best known book, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, is an expanded version of this argument. The Kindle is just a convenient and timely vehicle for his longstanding critique of literacy in our digital age.
Birkerts’ reference to Gutenberg in the title of his book is fitting. As I read his article, I couldn’t help but thinking of a story Clay Shirky tells in his book Here Comes Everybody. Shirky writes about the scribes – an elite group of literate monks – whose job it was, for many centuries, to hand-copy books. That is, until the 1400’s when Gutenberg came along. “Suddenly,” writes Josh Benton, describing the scene, “scribes were no longer a necessary link between knowledge and learner.” And as the printing press spread across Europe, the scribes sounded remarkably like Birkerts, warning of all that we will lose if we allow technology to reshape reading. Continue reading