Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Newsweek runs an article on Amazon’s Kindle, the latest move into the post-Gutenberg era. It seems much better than other e-book readers I have seen. Buy a book and it is auto-delivered wirelessly in less than one minute, for ten bucks! It holds 200 books and you can subscribe to papers and mags. Clever. This is a review of the product, currently sold out, according to Amazon.

Discussions - 7 Comments

The ultimate Christmas gift: even a leather cover. I look around at a house crowded with books; bookshelves in every room, one room downstairs might as well be insulated in them, shelved two deep, stacked, even on the piano and in falling down piles next to my bed. I just hurt my toe on a library stack by my feet. "Kate, can't we get rid of some of these?" Well, maybe, for $400 to start. To think I could have all of these books in a device and attachments - and all might be lost in a clumsy moment when I drop the damn thing.

Still, the freedom of portability and adjustable font. Digital temptation.

Well well seems we have the issue of the "crisis" in literacy and music firmly in sight... it comes from our relation to the subject from having too much of the stuff.

My already old computer has thousands of books downloaded on it already. With computing power continuing to double there is no telling how many books could be stored on a zip drive and placed unto an iphone, but odds are good that 100 years from now you could walk around with the library of congress +1500 years of non-repeating music on your video camera/phone. One day we will all have so many books on our "phones" that we will have to google them into being. If you drop your "phone/device" don't worry the information will be backed up in such a way that there will be little to the distinction between having it stored in the hard drive or on the internet. Alexandria can be burned to the ground...but 250 million people replicating the alexandrian policy of copying/"burning" every book/song/movie will ensure backups of backups and people will collect what they think is the least likely to be collected in the hopes of being able to sell it/trade it on some sort of ebay equivalent.

The crisis in books or music is really the crisis in baseball cards repeated. Like most americans I have a garage that doesn't house my car. Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics sits next to Ryrie's A survey of bible doctrine sits next to Schaefer's Sociology a brief introduction, next to Hegel's phenomenology of spirit, next to Ayn Rand's the Voice of Reason, next to McKeon's basic works of Aristotle, the Holy bible, Nietzsche Human, all to Human, Crime and punishment, Winston Churchill the Second World War...a windows registry guide...and that is but a tiny fraction of everything that accumulates dust.

But still ... the printed page, in my opinion, is far superior than any digital text.

Yes, while the "printed page" is nice, it doesn't change the meaning of the words that were written. I, too, prefer to be able to hold my books, smell them, turn the pages, feel the leather cover, etc. But if this new device makes it more convenient for people to read--and connects with a generation of people who are used to having everything in one or two devices in their pockets--then it stands the chance of getting more people to read, which is a very good thing.

John, the crisis in music literacy that I talk about in the thread below, which is partly provoked by potentially having the world's best music recordings at your fingertips, isn't at all the same as whatever disadvantages there might be (are there any?) to having a walking library on your future super-Kindle. (Kindle is a dopey name, BTW) The problem with push-button technology in music is that you don't need any more musicians or composers, and you don't need to learn how to sing yourself. The population becomes less musical. Shortly after we invent computer programs that can compose passable music, we will invent programs that are be able sample the parts our recordings that we like best, and re-mix them into some strange new world music. This "music" will be the equivalent of collage-art. None of this will ever be as good as what the best (or even just well-trained) humans can do, compositionally, improvisationally, or even DJ/mixmaster-wise. But unless we decide that there is a virtue in learning and playing music, in the act of singing, then our culture will on the mass scale surrender to the collage-music of the future, in which world-disco will be the top genre, and music-making will become a superfluous weird activity, like a Gandhi-inspired hippie hand-spinning his own cotton. (I'm getting some of this from a particularly mind-blowing chapter towards the end of Sonata for Jukebox by Geoffrey O'Brien. The man also wrote a book about acid, so I can say "mind-blowing" all I want without embarrassment!) That's the extreme vision, but a worthwhile reference point.

Now as Martha Bayles points out, initially, recording technology was a huge boon for music of all kinds, and it made many aspects of pop-music possible. I'm not a technological determinist on this, and sort of think that the Day of Only Ipod Music will never come, so long as Tocqueville's Mild Despotism in its full sense is impossible. But the danger posed to the musical disciplines by push-botton technology is nonetheless there, and there in a way that's totally unlike whatever danger (again, is there one?) that the Kindle poses to the discipline of reading.

In Plato's Phaedrus of course, there is a reflection about how the invention of writing diminished human's memnotic skills. That would be the only equivalent technology-provoked "literacy crisis" to what we face with music today, although I have a hunch that man the singer is more fundamental than man the memorizer, and that hunch is best supported by the fact that song remains the most powerful memnotic device, as the Homeric rhapsodes knew.

Kindle also makes me wonder about indexing. If, in the year 2145, you have downloaded the world's best and most popular books, let's say there are 1 million of these, could a program be devised that would be the super-index of your little portable Alexandria? How about a Syntopicon of the 10,000 Great, and not-so-Great, Ideas? Actually, Mortimer Adler's human-made syntopicon is plagued with problems, and was something of a bureacratic disaster, even if his essays in it can be useful.

Maybe Paul Seaton, who actually has indexed a book or two, could comment on whether the skill is programmable.

Would there be the Kindle equivalent of "Find"? You could find a given word in all of that text, say, and collect that data. Why not? That would be very useful.

I used the Synopticon to home school my oldest son. We loved the essays and my boy still thinks in that way. I am considering getting rid of the 1989 Encyclopedia Brittanica, but never the Great Books Series that accompanied that purchase.

My portable Alexandria: that is a temptation. I do love books as they have been, but as ROB says, the words are still there. Still, books I have already lived with, noted in, folded corners on pages of favorite bits, even with peanut butter smeared pages from my childhood, or read to my children from, my dad's books and my grandfather's books - you know, the ones looked into from time to time - there is sometimes more to a book than just the words. We would lose all of that if we took up machines. And yet, I wonder what the Kindle fees like. Could Amazon add the old book smell, do you suppose?

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