Turning up a quote by tapping a keyboard is not the same as, say, going to Bartlett’s—it short-circuits all contact with the contextual order that books represent. As I see it, the Kindle ethos—offering print by subscription, arriving from a vast, undifferentiated cyber-emporium out there—abets the decimation of context.He suggests a weakness in his argument. For surely a dictionary of quotations is itself a decontextualisation of information. Its convenience and its predigestion of knowledge are bookish forerunners of the very electronic systems Birkets bemoans.
So if it happens that in a few decades—maybe less—we move wholesale into a world where information and texts are called onto the screen by the touch of a button, and libraries survive as information centers rather than as repositories of printed books, we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators. We may gain an extraordinary dots-per-square-inch level of access to detail, but in the process we will lose much of our sense of the woven narrative consistency of the story. That is the trade-off. Access versus context. As for Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s words will reach the reader’s eye in the same sequence they always have. What will change is the receiving sensibility, the background understanding of what this text was – how it emerged and took its place in the context of other texts—and how it moved through the culture.Think about this claim. It is another example of the fetishisation of the "book". Somehow for Birkets finding a novel shelved just so in a library evokes the historico-cultural context of the novel that Birkets learned through his education. Finding the same text through an electronic process (even though the contextual information might be presented in more convenient form - accessible even by poor plebs who lack a refined education) will fail. Because it fails to evoke the mystique Birkets desires.
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