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.


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