Books are Dead, But We’re Still Chasing Their Shadows All Over

http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/27/specials/coover-end.html

This guy seems pretty smart. His critics seem pretty smart too. The line that got me was this: “Hyperfiction’s champions aren’t the first self-styled revolutionaries threatening to liberate other people from their pleasures, but they make one of the weakest cases. The end of books will come only when readers abandon novels for the deconstructed stories of hypertext, and that exodus is strictly a fiction.”

I italicized that line ’cause it’s so good, and it puts my position into perspective; this guy is wanting to liberate other people from their pleasures.

But I don’t think he’s wrong that it’ll happen eventually. Technology has created greater pleasures, simpler in some sense, more complex in others; the hypertext discourses, deconstructed tales, etc. etc. etc., they’re all just extensions of a movement towards this digitization of human discourse and narrative. It’s happening, and there’s nothing to be done about it. But when looking at media, you have to start with the question, “What do they want?” With that in mind, it seems that most people don’t want books. Those that do are significant, but are being whittled down. Classes are being digitized; stories are being placed into hypertext; our sense of narrative is shifting away from the complete book to the fragmentary lines of a comment that speaks volumes on the message board.

Books will lose cultural significance as a medium long before the stories in those books lose significance; and, of course, the scholars will keep books around for ages.

But consider this story: http://emcarroll.com/comics/faceallred/01.html

Could this same story be put into print? Sure.

But that last click, that last click when he turns his face, would that work as well in a comic book? I don’t know.

But it might, that’s certainly arguable. 

The point with that is, we’re not changing what we’re doing out of necessity; we’re not liberating people from their pleasures more than we’re changing what’s pleasurable. Books have worked well; hypertext might work better. I’ll still read books, until the day I die, but I’m not going to pretend like they’re the end-all-be-all of media. ‘Cause we’re already surpassing them.

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3 thoughts on “Books are Dead, But We’re Still Chasing Their Shadows All Over

  1. I really like the way you approach the reading in your post. And I like the story you managed to find, but I’m such a traditionalist that I’d still like to see it in print 🙂 I think that a book would almost make that last head turn more dramatic. As a reader you’d have to slowly pull the page back, seeing his body before his face , to reveal what was laying there, and to me, that brings more anticipation than a click does.

  2. Pingback: Digital Dialectic and Earthbeat: Goodbye | Pamela and Mass Communication

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