If I see a book on my shelf, I have an easier time remembering whether I've read it than if I see the title on my library list on my Kindle page.
I hadn't really given that much thought, until Lein Shory sent me this piece about Jason Lanier's new book, WHO OWNS THE FUTURE.
To me a book is not just a particular file. It’s connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of a summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I’m concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They’re divorcing books from their role in personhood.
I’m quite concerned that in the future someone might not know what author they’re reading. You see that with music. You would think in the information age it would be the easiest thing to know what you’re listening to. That you could look up instantly the music upon hearing it so you know what you’re listening to, but in truth it’s hard to get to those services.I was in a cafe this morning where I heard some stuff I was interested in, and nobody could figure out. It was Spotify or one of these … so they knew what stream they were getting, but they didn’t know what music it was. Then it changed to other music, and they didn’t know what that was. And I tried to use one of the services that determines what music you’re listening to, but it was a noisy place and that didn’t work. So what’s supposed to be an open information system serves to obscure the source of the musician. It serves as a closed information system. It actually loses the information.
So in practice you don’t know who the musician is. And I think that’s what could happen with writers. And this is what we celebrate in Wikipedia is pretending that there’s some absolute truth that can be spoken that people can approximate and that the speaker doesn’t matter. And if we start to see that with books in general – and I say if – if you look at the approach that Google has taken to the Google library project, they do have the tendency to want to move things together. You see the thing decontextualized.The whole article is pretty cool and you can read it here.
And while I don't know that I buy into the whole "personhood" thing, I do dig the beats he's dropping down about how the book and author can become "decontextualized" to a certain extent.
In non-fiction, as Lanier seems to suggest, we might get more of an "absolute truth" sort of thing, but I wonder whether this is creeping into our fiction reading, as well.
If I am reading a p-book, I am looking at the cover each time I start to read it. The author's image is on the back somewhere. The top of the page might have the title of the book, the author's name. I'm surrounded by the book.
If I'm reading the e-book, I'm just looking at a few paragraphs from location 12,614. The name of the author is not right there. When I pick the book up tomorrow, I'm just picking up a blank slate, literally. Then I slide the power switch, and I'm at location 36,882, without ever again glancing against the identity of the author.
The book, the actual words of the book, are becoming removed from the packaging. I'm not arguing that suddenly you're faced with generic writing. Packaging or not, I could tell Dorthy L. Sayers from Patricia Highsmith, a hawk from a handsaw.
I suspect audiobooks exhibit more of this dissociation as you're not even reading. You just have these sounds floating around your head as you pedal your basement bicycle at too-damn-early in the morning.
Maybe the future does have us pulling away from the cult of the author.