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August 27, 2007


David Rothman

"But we'll always continue to use paper, because for certain purposes, it will always be the best thing."


Though hopefully we'll use it more selectively and responsibly.


If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Sven Birkert's "The Gutenberg Elegies" (1994). Writing before the Web and even e-mail were widespread, he saw the coming mania for all things digital.

It's the kind of thing you have to read on paper.

T Scott

I read it seven or eight years ago when I was designing a seminar course on intellectual property and the internet. I heartily agree with your recommendation, although I disagree with Birkerts in a number of areas. His Coda overstates the downside of the digital world, and his love for print is heavily laden with nostalgia and romanticism. However, he writes beautifully and anyone who wants to think seriously about the impact of digital information and the internet on culture needs to grapple with the issues that he raises.


Indeed--the book has flaws, the most troublesome of which are overly extended autobiographical digressions (although, to be fair, Birkerts warns readers that these are coming.)

In the 2006 afterword to the new edition, Birkerts takes a more nuanced view and recognizes how much he's become immersed--and is letting his children become immerses--in the very digital delights he decried in 1994. Reading that is well worth it; it takes the edge off the shrillness of the book itself.

T Scott

Oh, thanks! I hadn't realized that he'd done a new afterward. I'll have to look that up.

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