Posted by: Emily | March 26, 2009

Birkerts and his Kindle Rage

So I’ve got the late shift tonight on a reference desk that has been hopping all week, but apparently this is a silent hour of sorts. So just enough time to read and reflect on Sven Birkerts’ Kindle rage! I just got one, the first generation, and I have to admit I love it. I flip it on in the morning, put the water on to boil for coffee, and by the time I turn around, there’s my newspaper. And that was true on my recent trip to Canada, and it will be true next week when I’m off flying around to a couple of conferences. Yay!

Birkerts, though, fears the Kindle. We disagree about the extent to which the access tool determines our experience of a text. Reasonable people will disagree about the romance of paper. But! We do agree on this:

I’m not blind to the unwieldiness of the book, or to the cumbersome systems we must maintain to accommodate it—the vast libraries and complicated filing systems. But these structures evolved over centuries in ways that map our collective endeavor to understand and express our world. The book is part of a system. And that system stands for the labor and taxonomy of human understanding, and to touch a book is to touch that system, however lightly.

If I had to sum up my research interests in an instant, that pretty much does it. Books are embedded in these systems, silently and almost secretly created, invisible to most readers, but very real. They are systems that reflect a certain view of the world, of knowledge, of what counts and in what order and in what relation. We didn’t all make it, and it doesn’t serve all of our purposes and I think that’s what’s really interesting. Not an e-book reader that practically nobody owns that is changing the reading habits of a tiny number of people who I think we’d all do well to think less about.


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