The Screen vs. The Page
Rosen points out numerous dangerous qualities of the Kindle that make the possibility of its replacement of books sound disastrous.
I am noticing a fear of fragmentation. Rosen (as well as other writers we?ve been reading) seems to condemn the way that digital technology makes it possible to extract bits and parts of literary texts, and then for people browsing to discover these snippets, and potentially never read the rest of the text or engage with the complex context the pieces come from. Rosen explicitly condemns Kevin Kelly?s article that sees digital books as offering a new way to compile a personal library or bookshelf, the way we have our own playlists of songs in mp3 form that we can arrange into our own personal albums. Why is this so threatening? It takes authored works, breaks them down, and then the rearrangement makes it an entirely new piece of art or literature. This reordering process is what we discussed with Jeff Glover in class, and perhaps Rosen is communicating a similar disgust toward what Jeff noticed about Franklin?s passage: that the reordering emphasizes mechanical form and the act of arrangement over what the substance of the text actually says. Perhaps this runs the risk of emphasizing the ?body? of a literary piece of art over its ?soul.? It seems like this cuts to the central fear underlying the resistance to e-books, digital literacy, and the internet in general: that we?re going to lose the deep, meaningful, meditative joy and self-expansion that we can experience through reading a book. Personally, I think that neither reading a physical book NOR reading from a screen have the market cornered on the joy and transformation that grows out of deep engagement with language. It happens in both places, and there are loads and loads of people that are both ?of the screen? and ?of the book.? One great example of this is?.you guys! Me! All of us! Graduate students and undergraduate students are the rising stars, and look at us?.not all of us are fully digitally literate?.but we definitely are all book-familiar. One thing Rosen points out that is accurate is that parents are not going to start reading children?s books from a screen or Kindle. Kids are going to grow up with books, no matter how much there is to do on a screen involving buttons.
Example of fear of fragmentation: We see a fear of fragmentation blare loud and clear at the end of Rosen?s article. Rosen writes, ?The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information? (emphasis added). Why is a collage of pieces of information so frightful? Also, what does she mean by modernity, here? She employs the same kind of assumptions we discussed before ?the superiority of written language in books as opposed to oral culture and epic poems (like Homer?s works!) that were experienced and transferred aurally.
Rosen makes the triumph of the screen over the page so dramatic and inevitable, and offers her article as a kind of wakeup call. She doesn?t acknowledge, however, that if things really are becoming so extreme (people engaging with screens and spending less and less time concentrating on the totality of a printed book) than there will probably be a backlash. I know from my personal obsession with the screen (my laptop, my online adventures, my facebook addiction, etc) that when I step away from the computer and go outside and dig in my garden or read in bed?.I feel profoundly relieved. Getting all entangled and wound up in the digital world of screens leads, in my opinion, to wanting some kind of retreat into something completely different, more tactile and 3-dimensional, like yoga, absorption in a book, or getting my hands covered in wet soil and worms.
I also take MAJOR issue with Rosen?s use of literary canon minority-inclusion-advocates as an analogy for digital literary enthusiasts.
"Digital literacy?s boosters are not unlike the people who were swept up in the multiculturalism fad of the 1980s and 1990s. Intent on encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, they initially argued for supplementing the canon so that it acknowledged the intellectual contribution of women and minorities. But like multiculturalism, which soon changed its focus from broadening the canon to eviscerating it by purging the contributions of ?dead white males,? digital literacy?s advocates increasingly speak of replacing, rather than supplementing, print literacy."
There are so many things wrong with this analogy that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, her analogy implies that dead-white-male authored literature is more serious than literature written by women or minorities. (serious printed books are to superficial flashy screens as dead white male books are to texts written by women and minorities) Also, is her caricature of canon evolution even accurate, here? Who, exactly, advocates removal of dead white men from the canon? In my experience, it seems like we have, instead, began to engage in scholarship that treats dead-white-male texts with a revisionist eye. Her portrayal here of canon issues is extreme and misleading, but perhaps her analogy is telling because it also exposes how extreme and exaggerated her portrayal of the ?page versus screen war? is.