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Chapter 5: The Electronic Book

A presentation of Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space, chapter five, in which he explores the electronic book.

Alexander Breen

on 27 April 2011

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Transcript of Chapter 5: The Electronic Book

5 The
Book The papyrus roll “For centuries in the ancient world, the
papyrus roll, about 25 feet long, constituted
a volume.” (77) “They are writing in and on the world.” (97) The codex replaced the roll by “enclosing,
protecting, and delimiting” the writing—effectively
creating a “complete verbal structure.” (77) “The codex has been associated with
the idea that writing should be
rounded into finite units of expression
and that a writer or reader can—and
should—close his text off from all other
texts.” (77) “The papyrus roll was poor at suggesting a sense
of closure;” “the writing on the roll served as a script,
to be consulted when memory failed.” (77-78) “The importance of the book as an object
perhaps reached its zenith in the Middle Ages,
when illuminated manuscripts were examples
of multimedia writing at its finest...” (78-79) “As we refashion the book through digital technology,
we are diminishing the sense of closure that belonged
to the codex and to print.” (79) “...the eBook tries to imitate the physical presence of the codex.” [reader] (80) “However, the eBook must promise something
more than the form that it remediates: it must
offer what can be construed as a more immediate,
complete, or authentic experience for the reader.” (80) Many would argue that it does; yet, as Bolter
himself reiterates, there exists opposition to the eBook. What’s more: “the pull of the Internet is now culturally
and economically overwhelming” (81) and eBook readers with Internet access present a concept
borrowed from history— The desire to make a “great book,” or a book
in which “all verbal knowledge [exists] in one place.” (81) The encyclopedia “The encyclopedia offers conditions for both surplus and scarcity.” (84) “As books multiplied, it became harder to aspire to the goal of a book that would encompass all important works, even in a single field.” (82) “By allowing multiple organizations, the Britannica anticipated an attitude toward knowledge that belongs to the late age of print, where the circle and the line are equally at home” (88) “Immediacy of information is also guaranteed by hyperlinks among the articles and by the search capability, which allows the reader to retrieve articles that contain a keyword or phrase.” (89) “Online editions of the great book add to their claim of immediacy by connecting their user to cyberspace, which is itself already construed as a vast encyclopedia.” (89) “A web search engine functions like an index, permitting the user to retrieve web pages that contain words or phrases of interest.” (90) “What we have today is a view of knowledge as collections of (verbal and visual) ideas that can arrange themselves into a kaleidoscope of hierarchical and associative patterns.” (91) The digital library “In a fully digital library, in which the books themselves are stored in machine form, the library would no longer need to be a building that the reader had to visit.” (92) “[In a digital library], the same book could, in effect, appear on different shelves.” (92) “Because the libraries continue to fulfill a variety of institutional and cultural purposes, it seems unlikely that they will be dismantled in the near future.” (93) “As full texts become available online, we see the impulse to create a ‘universal’ database.” (93) “With considerable effort, our culture could probably transfer all or almost all texts and images, but the question is whether we will ever make the effort.” (96) “Readers will turn to the web for information, and if they cannot find it there and are not willing to look elsewhere, then cyberspace may become by default the universal book, encyclopedia, and library all in one.” (96)
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