Week 11: Trip to the future

If I had a time machine, I would like to go to the future. Events of the past have shaped where we are today, and the book as we know it has developed from these events. I am most interested in seeing what the book and methods of transferring information will look like in 50 years. Technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that the way we interact with the book may be completely different from what it is today, or it may be the same with slight changes to reflect the newest technology.

I would have many questions and comments to make once I took in what the future is like, but I would have one message to pass on to the people of the future. Marlena has brought up an very interesting perspective for this weeks post and her post has sparked my message for people in the future. The book is a means of preserving and sharing information, regardless of what form it takes. I would tell the people of the future to make sure they do not forget the true purpose of the book, and to create books in a way that they continue to hold true to this purpose.

We have looked at many forms of the book and discovered the way in which technological advancements have changed the way we interact with the book. But regardless of the form, the common root is the transfer and preservation of information. I would like to see what new forms are created for the book, and to tell people of the future to ensure the preservation and transfer of information for individuals across all walks of life.

Off to visit the Future Library in 2114

If I had a time machine, I would travel 98 years into the future to 2114. This is the year the Future Library will be released in Oslo, Norway. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Future Library, it is a conceptual art project created by artist Katie Paterson. The idea is each year, beginning in 2014, a different author will contribute an original piece of writing to the library, to be published in the year 2114. So far, Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell are contributing authors. The manuscripts, along with printing technologies on which to print the books, are being housed in the New Public Deichmanske Library. A forest of trees was planted in 2014 to provide paper for the books. To read more about this project, you can visit the artist’s website.

I want to be able to witness the publishing of the Future Library Anthology to satiate my curiosity about a number of things:

  1. Does anyone care about the project? Or is this an idea more exciting for people alive at the beginning of the 100-year period: people who will never get to see the finished product?
  2. I want to know what books published (presuming they are still published) in 2114 look like, and if the printing technologies preserved in the Future Library are at all helpful. Does anyone know how to use them?
  3. What did Margaret Atwood want to communicate to readers 100 years from now?

    source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/10/future-library_n_7532012.html
    source: Future Library, Kristin Von Hirsch, 2016
  4. Finally, what will this project tell future scholars about cultural anxieties surrounding the future of the book in 2014? In my opinion (firmly rooted in 2016) this project reveals much about cultural anxieties surrounding the future in general. The concept of making choices and decisions which affect generations in the future resonates with those concerned with environmental sustainability. Will our current environmental crisis be of lesser or greater interest to people in 2114? When I return from my travels through time, I’ll let you know.

Book Lovers, to the Time Booth! We Haven’t Much… Space

If I had a time machine that would allow me to skip around in time, maybe a Time Pogo Stick, I would go to the various periods of change in the format of the book and tell people to “CALM DOWN. Seriously, guys, the book is not going to die. We’re all still reading happily. Chill out.” Sadly, I don’t have a Time Pogo Stick, so I guess I won’t get to yell at all those doomsday predictors. (But, it looks like Stephanie has already done that. So, yay!) No, I only have this old, generic time machine with the panels falling off. One round trip left to make before the Time Batteries finally die. So, I’m going to have to go to the Library of Alexandria. I mean, this is my one chance!

I did a brief stint in Near and Middle Eastern Studies during undergrad. It seemed that every single class was marred by the statement that “So-and-So wrote a history of Mesopotamia, or Egypt, and was a contemporary during such-and-such important historical event. Yes, and their book was enshrined in the Library of Alexandria, where it was lost forever. We have, like, ten paragraphs of it that other contemporary historians referenced in their own works. So, yay for scholarship! *sob*”

The loss of the contents of those books, leaving massive gaps in our knowledge and understanding of history, has always haunted me. It’s not like they were just someone’s personal ramblings. They were important works, embraced by the scholarly community of the time. They were sent to the Library to be preserved and made available to everyone. They are now lost forever.

So, I would go back and say to a librarian, “Look. I know you think this place will last forever. It’s very nice, truly. But there is a whole future to come that you have no control over. The only thing you might be able to control is what is remembered. So you need to start making copies and disseminating them. Hopefully some will survive. Also, do you have these two books? You should copy them first. Wait. I’m just going to wave my magic rectangle over them for a bit. Don’t worry, I’m a librarian too.”

That’s what I think about when I think about the future of the book now: not so much the book as a concept but the information we transmit through it. As we move through different formats and contexts, we need to make sure that we’re preserving that information in ways that can also adapt. We can’t get complacent or put our trust into one form over another, one institution over all others. What I’m trying to say is that this class has taught me to trust in the future of the book. It’s the future of particular books I worry about now.

Note: Readers may have noticed I’ve been quite vague about the inciting works in this post. That is because I can’t remember what they were called or who the authors were. I didn’t save my notes for that class. That just goes to show you never know what might be important down the line.

Week 11: A More Inclusive History for a More Inclusive Future


Source: http://blogs.baylor.edu/armstrongbrowning/category/19th-century-women-writers/

I think that if I could travel back in time, the message I would focus on relaying would be around medium as a reflection of current ideological state, and as something that is flexible and should be open to interpretation. I’m specifically thinking about the roughly 19th Century Anglo/ European audience as a useful target demographic to propagate this idea to, so as to avoid the discounting of manuscripts and letters as worthy candidates for the study of book history. This is in part inspired by one of my book history classes in which we looked at the letter writing of women in this time period and how there was often a dichotomy created between the authority of print and the less authoritative domain of handwriting or manuscript. This would be beneficial for expanding the scope of the field not just in terms of materiality, but also in terms of its socio-cultural engagement in history. The Future of the Book has shown us the flexibility of the definition of a text, and the multitudes of ways that stories can be told effectively outside of the traditional printed codex.

This particular insight might be addressed to a still developing field of book historians and scholars so that they might build up the field with a wider sense of what counts as important to the culture of books (and to consider to what degree it is valuable to draw lines of distinctions around what books are). Even as we turn our gaze towards the future, the boundaries between mediums become less clear. As Matthew Kirschenbaum notes “the tendency to elicit what is ‘new’ about new media by contrasting its radical mutability with the supposed material stolidity of older textual forms is a misplaced gesture, symptomatic of the general extent to which textual studies and digital studies have failed to communicate”(24). Perhaps, then, if we were not so rigid in our original definitions of the book, the field would not struggle to define itself and its breadth today.


Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “Editing the Interface: Textual Studies and First-Generation Electronic Objects.” Text: An Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual Studies 14 (2002): 15-51. 

Changing the Social Structures of Knowledge

I am not really sure what I would tell someone in the past about the future of the book and reading, but I do know where I would go. I would visit Ptolemy I and the founding of the Ancient Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.

If there is one thing I would tell Ptolemy I and the library organizer Demetrius of Phalerum that knowledge and reading is something that should be equal to all. I understand that educating the common people gives rise to dissent and they are harder to control, but I believe that a people’s culture and history can be preserved through normal citizens as well. It would be nice to study history from a perspective other than that of the elite. I recall the readings from our first week by Robert Darton “What is the History of Books?” and the perspectives we encounter. It would be interesting to gain insight into the daily lives of the peoples of the ancient world instead of the viewpoint of the aristocracy.

My trip back in time would educate Ptolemy I on the importance of recorded information and to incorporate all facets of life from nobility to slave. Oh! And explain to him the advantages and disadvantages of scrolls and binded books. I have spoken before about the differences of continuous and discontinuous reading and I believe it is vital in understanding the medium of storage for knowledge.

back to the future book: the more things change, the more they stay the same

cat books

Alright, bear with me on the cheesy title for this post. In all seriousness, I think this cliché accurately sums up how books and bookish things have progressed throughout the ages. To this end, what I would suggest to someone in the past about the future of books and reading is that ‘the book’ will not only persist, but it will do so with remarkable similarities to books that past citizens of time have known, understood, and loved. When considering how ‘books’ have evolved, from cuneiform tablets, to papyrus scrolls, wax tablets, bound codices, pulp paperbacks, and right up to audio books, the Internet, and digital e-books, what is remarkable is not the degree of change, but the degree of similarity. What we’re dealing with here are differences in degree, not in kind.

In a world where immense changes and developments have been made in areas such as science, technology, medicine, transportation, and the like, it is pretty incredible to think that books, for the most part, look quite similar to their nearly five-hundred year old counterparts. Take for example, the fact that the codex form has persisted, despite death knells for the ‘end of the book’ tracing back over a hundred years. Octave Uzanne, in his 1894 “The End of Books,” foretold, “If by books you are to be understood as referring to our innumerable collections of paper, printed, sewed, and bound in a cover announcing the title of the work, I own to you frankly that I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products” (223-224). Even his prophecy of “phonographic literature,” realized in the audio book, did not prove to do away with the printed codex entirely. New technologies such as e-books, widely presumed to be the book’s successor, are inextricably caught up in the look and feel of printed books, as Johanna Drucker puts it, “electronic presentations often mimic the kitschiest elements of book iconography, while potentially useful features of electronic functionality are excluded” (2009, 166).

What can account for this lack of dissimilarity? I wonder if it comes down to something Drucker mentions about the difference between “the way a book looks” and “the ways a book works;” she writes, “think of the contrast between the literal book – that familiar icon of bound pages in finite, fixed sequence – and the phenomenal book – the complex production of meaning and effect that arises from dynamic interaction with the literal work” (2009, 169). Certainly changes in technology have meant differences in how we interact with words – whether on a page, a screen, through a hyperlink…all of these things have changed our reading experience. Yet, with only a difference in degree, perhaps the story of the book over the last few hundred years has been a narrative of continuity, and not change? Despite Andrew Piper’s assertion that digital reading may not in fact be ‘reading’ at all, but something entirely new (2012, 46) – it seems that many of our traditional ways of being with books and bookish things still apply.

As for the future of the book, Robert Coupland Harding wrote in 1894: “Will moveable types still remain? We think they will. Steam and devil-driven though the world may be now – dazzled by electric light and thrilled by galvanic motors as it will be in years to come – there must still remain classes of work that no mechanism can perform” (85). In some ways, Harding’s statement still stands true. In this hybrid reading environment, with print and digital co-existing, it would seem that the ‘work’ of reading can still occupy a decidedly traditional space, while it changes, morphs, and adapts. Umberto Eco, in This is Not the End of the Book, writes of the future, “One of two things will happen: either the book will continue to be the medium for reading, or its replacement will resemble what the book has always been, even before the invention of the printing press. Alterations of the book-as-object have modified neither its function nor its grammar for more than 500 years. The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved. You cannot make a spoon that is better than a spoon” (2011, 4).

I would agree wholeheartedly, and yet, I don’t think that with regards to bookish pursuits we are entirely in the clear. The Economist’s essay on the future of the book, “From Papyrus to Pixels,” notes that, “In the past decade people have been falling over themselves to predict the death of books, of publishers, of authors and of bookshops, even of reading itself. Of all those believed at risk, only the bookshops have actually suffered serious damage” (2014). To this I would add, libraries. Not to get all doom and gloom here, but library cuts and closures are about as close to the ‘death of the book’ as we’re coming – Leah Price notes, “Writers foresaw space travel, time travel, virtual reality and, endlessly, the book’s demise; what they never seem to have imagined was that the libraries housing those dying volumes might themselves disappear” (2012). In 1955, Lester Asheim wrote that, “The library of today is still essentially a book agency, and our training, practice, and outlook are book-oriented. The library of the future may or may not be primarily a book agency. If it is not, those of us who limit our attention to the book may find our libraries, if not completely discarded, at least relegated to a position of considerably reduced importance and vitality. On the other hand, if the library of the future should continue to be a book agency, it will be an effective one, not through our blindly devoting ourselves to the service of books in and for themselves, but because as librarians we will have analyzed and understood the unique role of the book which qualifies it to serve new and developing needs” (282). For once, a projection we should take heed of. So, I guess if I were to go back in time and give a warning about the future it would be this – forget about the death of the book, it will be just fine, but direct your attention to the library instead. Maybe it has been a bit of hubris that lead to a denial that libraries could ever disappear – whatever the case, it seems that libraries might do well to consider a difference in kind (to their collections, their services, their outlook) in order to survive (and thrive) into the future.


Asheim, Lester. (1955). New problems in plotting the future of the book. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 25 (4): 281-292. http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/pdf/4304463.pdf.

Drucker, Johanna. (2009). Modelling functionality: From codex to e-book. In SpecLab: Digital aesthetics and projects in speculative computing. (pp. 165-175). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Eco, Umberto and Jean-Claude Carrière. (2011). This is not the end of the book. London: Harvill Secker.

“From Papyrus to Pixels.” (2014). The Economist. http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21623373-which-something-old-and-powerful-encountered-vault.

Harding, Robert Coupland. (1894). A hundred years hence. Typo, 8: 85. http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/etexts/typo/Har08TypoFCo.jpg.

Piper, Andrew. (2012). Turning the page (roaming, zooming, streaming). In Book was there: Reading in electronic times (pp. 45-61). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Price, Leah. (2012). Dead again. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/books/review/the-death-of-the-book-through-the-ages.html?_r=0.

Uzanne, Octave. (1894). The end of books. Scribner’s Magazine, 16 (2): 221-232. http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=scri;cc=scri;rgn=full%20text;idno=scri0016-2;didno=scri0016-2;view=image;seq=0229;node=scri0016-2%3A9.



If I could go back to just a few decades ago (a very modest jump in time), I would warn authors and readers about the eBook model. The codex is quite an ideal technology for its purpose. There is still a lost potential around eBooks, as they only mimic the codex form.

Although there are more experimental works arising, as Sam has brought up, they are far and few between. I would push authors and readers to explore new ways of storytelling that digital media makes possible.

I think, in general, I would tell people to start considering storytelling more broadly. As Stephanie mentioned, print books are safe. The rise of new technology has allowed various models of storytelling to arise from eBooks to virtual reality games. Recognizing all of these forms as art and figuring out how to live off of them without the exploitative model that has developed around licensing and digital content would benefit us greatly. I keep thinking back to MoMA’s acquisition of video games. How much did this contribute to the legitimization of video games as story-telling within non-gamers? Are we using technology to its full extent when it comes to storytelling?


Source: Screenshot of MoMA catalogue entry for Portal
Source: Screenshot of MoMA catalogue entry for Portal

Week 11: The Death of the Book

If I could go back in time and tell the people of an era one really important thing about the future of books and reading, it would simply be that books are not going to die. With this message, I could travel back to a variety of different time periods, because there have been many instances of moral panics over “the death of the book” (i.e. Théophile Gautier in 1835 France; Marshall McLuhan circa 1966).

The intent behind this message would primarily be to allay these poor book lovers’ fears regarding the death of the book. Think of the time and energy that could have been saved and redirected into more creative writing endeavours if people hadn’t fixated on arguing over this issue (not to say that what people wrote about the matter in all of these different periods is not interesting in and of itself!). I wish I could tell them that books will change, and while some will embrace this change, books as they were known in times past will continue to flourish, and people will continue to read them. If they had known this, perhaps more people would have been encouraged to write books, to write more books, or to write different books.

As we have learned in this course, print books are not going to die, and e-books are not going to take over. Even if they did, works would still get read, even if the format might change slightly (or drastically). In any case, other technologies such as newspaper, radio, or TV will not replace books and reading: the need for books is strong and the love for them is ever-present.

Week 10: Updating IRL

Apologies in the delay getting this post to you fellow bloggers, the Easter bunny brought me the flu for Easter so I’m a bit out of sorts, but here goes!

Besides music, the downloading of apps is probably the main way in which my ownership of digital objects gets tested. I find myself mildly annoyed when an app I get accustomed to using in one way, is altered or updated in another way that forces me to re-learn its functions or re-shape my attitudes towards it (I am a creature of habit I suppose).

A very current example would be Instagram, which is purportedly going to be changing its feed algorithms to favour popularity over chronology. This is annoying because it means that it will be harder to follow the famous and non-famous in a peacefully co-existing way, as the more popular content is privileged. However because the app is free rather than a purchased app, it’s difficult to feel too hard done by, after all there are many instances where apps disappear or change after you have purchased them. Also, there is of course the option to turn off automatic app updates so that you can stay with whatever versions is currently being used. The downside of this is that there is sense that you are missing out on something and you have to go through the additional labor of manually updating some things and not others if you do decide to update. This is all just to say that updating is not a bad thing, just merely an interesting aspect of the digital object that contributes to our sense of it as a living, evolving organism rather than a complete creation. FOMO (fear of missing out) seems to eventually get the better of us – you don’t want to update, but what if you miss out on something cool?

If you do purchase an app, these things become even more interesting to think about because the boundaries of ownership become even blurrier – you have access to the app – but it’s being altered and updated by its creators. There is a sense that it really never is yours in quite the same way. When I purchase something digital I know in the back of mind that I may very well be paying for a very temporary experience with something, but instant gratification usually gets the best of me and I will purchase something because I want to use it today without much concern for its use tomorrow.

The sense of the update as being an embedded part of a digital object means that the thing we purchased is a living service rather than something we make a single transaction for in order to acquire a specific item. One simply cannot have control over the app in quite the same way as a physical object (unless you happen to have elite hacking skills). The update complicates our relationship to something we own because it means that what we have paid for is still very much under the control of the original content creator.

Apps already seem to occupy a grey area in terms of ownership as their existence isn’t in conversation with a tangible history the way the digital book is. Part of their identity is defined through their use and purchase, and the tenuous and fragile nature of these digital features. The less control you have over something, the harder it is to feel as though you possess ownership. The concept of control of information comes up in the Adrian John’s article as something that has “become a principal foundation of modern social, economic, and cultural order. As it has become the key commodity in the globalized economy, so control and management of information have vastly increased in overt importance.” (5). Who controls the things we buy is a more intriguing question than ever when the commodity never fully leaves the control of the creator. With apps, whether purchased or not, people are less likely to invest their confidence in them as an enduring commodities, which has created a diluted sense of ownership when it comes to apps.

Johns, A. (2009). Piracy: the Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. Chicago: U of Chicago Press.

Week 10: Ownership

This weeks blog question brought to mind issues with ownership and movies. Similar to the thrill of purchasing a physical book, I would get excited when I went to Blockbuster and browsed their clearance DVD collection on Friday nights. I would spend more time deciding on which movies to buy then I did watching them. After a few years, I have quite a large collection of DVDs that I can take with me anywhere I go and that I can use across devices. With the introduction of online movie purchasing options through iTunes and similar services, I purchase or rent my movies through these services instead of the physical DVD.

Although the online shopping experience makes purchasing movies easier and doesn’t require me to leave my house, it has its draw backs. The main one being that I have experienced issues with not having access to content  across devices. With a DVD, you can play in through your DVD player or laptop by simply inserting the disk. As long as you have the physical disk, you will have access to the content (assuming the disk is in good condition). With movies purchased through iTunes, you need to be signed into you iTunes account on the device and should have access to all of your purchases. However, I have previously purchased a movie on a laptop and when I tried to view it though iTunes on Apple TV, the movie was not present in my iTunes account on my AppleTv.

Recall thing this experience made me really consider the concept of ownership in a world where everything is online or in the cloud and we no longer need to purchase physical objects. It brings to mind questions about how we can own something that we do not physically have or see and whether we can really consider this a true concept of ownership. Considering the way in which we purchase movies online, are we being granted ownership or access to the movie? I think it is the latter, but I would love to hear what you think.

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