Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do Electronic Books Mark the End of Reading? Umberto Eco Doesn’t Think So

In the hopefully titled This is Not the End of the Book (Harvill Secker) two great readers and book collectors opine on what the e-reading revolution will mean to the book and reading as we know it.

In conversation with editor and biographer Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, playwright and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and novelist and critic Umberto Eco discuss the future of the book and so much more. The resulting work offers hope and reassurance to book-lovers who are reluctantly scratching at the door of technology. Eco seems especially on target and on point, as illustrated by this excerpt from early in the book:
There is actually very little to say on the subject. The internet has returned us to the alphabet. If we thought we had become a purely visual civilization, the computer returns us to Gutenberg's galaxy; from now on, everyone has to read. In order to read, you need a medium. This medium cannot simply be a computer screen. Spend two hours reading a novel on your computer and your eyes turn into tennis balls. At home, I use a pair of Polaroid glasses to protect my eyes from the ill effects of unbroken onscreen reading. And in any case, the computer depends on electricity and cannot be read in a bath, or even lying on your side in bed.

One of two things will happen: either the book will continue to be the medium for reading, or its replacement will resemble what the book has always been, even before the invention of the printing press. Alterations to the book-as-object have modified neither its function nor its grammar for more than 500 years. The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved. You cannot make a spoon that is better than a spoon. When designers try to improve on something like the corkscrew, their success is very limited; most of their `improvements' don't even work. Philippe Starck attempted an innovative lemon-squeezer; his version may be very handsome, but it lets the pips through.

The book has been thoroughly tested, and it's very hard to see how it could be improved on for its current purposes. Perhaps it will evolve in terms of components; perhaps the pages will no longer be made of paper. But it will still be the same thing.



Anonymous Baxter Clare Trautman said...

It doesn't matter if the method of delivery is a burnt match scratched on tissue paper or a $3,000 electronic device - the important thing is that people are still reading. The message is important, not the medium. Long live the printed word!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 4:13:00 PM PDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home