Friday, January 12, 2007

New Media and the Manuscript

I'm off for my dorm's ski trip tomorrow so I'm posting this now and we'll see if this is approximately what we are supposed to do.

Reading through all the articles, particularly Brad Sagle's Custom-Built Libraries made me think about the idea of the book collector in this increasing age of technology. Like daguerreotypes, books were once valued as unique manuscripts. You could copy them, but you'd have something ever so slightly different each time. After the printing press there was the sought-after first edition. Further, collectors looked to drafts with those comments smeared in the type set pages. It's a chance to see something wonderful in its initial form before seemingly tainted by success. They're the type of things we hide away in special collections.

But what happens to these with digital books? Say we stop using printed copies and instead rely entirely on “e-books,” where are the first editions? I guess authors might print out their work to edit it, but sparingly so. Instead of manuscripts or first editions, there are infinitely replicable copies of bits that, if even saved as a separate file in the first place, represent an author's first revision. If you have an earlier revision others may find it interesting, but it is not unique and can be replicated with the press of the button. Will the collector then die with the book?

Personally, I can’t imagine not being able to flip through the pages of a book and the feeling of the literal weight of the words in my hands. I like being able to look over and see what someone else is reading from the cover. I don’t think the physical book will die out just because another form of representing them exists. People didn’t stop representing concepts through speech because this nifty ability to write came along. We now represent differently, but paper has it’s purpose. The bulk of material may exist solely in digital form because anyone can put information out there without real cost. Books for things like schedules are becoming rarer but I can’t see the printed word dying out. Besides, collectors wouldn’t let it.

No comments: