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Technology of the Book

Technology of the Book


Though we may be more concerned with digital technologies here, I thought that the recent Economist  essay on The Future of the Book: From Papyrus to Pixels may be interesting to some of us. More than the future (though there is speculation), the essay discusses the current material containers of text as well as some of the history of the book.

The essay, though published in the Oct. 11th-17th 2014 paper issue, is also available as an interactive web version that can be scrolled through, read as a "book," listened to as an audiobook, and the last chapter can even be Spritzed through. I think the various formats that the essay is available in do more to show us that there have always been a variety of technologies surrounding reading, and that there will always be different modes of approaching text (as Machiavelli may read Dante in a portable format in the country, but when he does serious work in Latin, he will have to move himself to a non-portable book and describes the movement along with a different intellectual approach in a letter to his friend). 

When HASTAC co-founder Cathy Davidson introduces think-pair-share at her events she makes a note that we will be using the technology of "machine-made pencils and machine-made paper," which truly reveals that technology is something that we have inherited and is not just the latest light-up mobile devices (a book is a great mobile device with an infinite battery life, for example).



It also seems to me that the development of reading technology has moved toward a way to allow more access to texts by more people, something that we are talking about today in terms of the digital divide. As books moved from expensive Latin manuscript editions only available chained to desks — later beginning to give way to venacular texts in Carolingian miniscule instead of Blackletter for instance, and eventually becoming handheld early printed books — more and more people had access to the production of knowledge. It is my hope that advances in technology will continue to enable more people access to knowledge and to decrease the digital divide. 

I have written a long-form blog essay about the Technology of the Book on my Classy-Tech blog. 

Further reading about non-digital book technology:

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