Reading our way to the future – Lawrence Weschler at the Penn Humanities Forum

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Hello lovely people, I have a question for you.  Do you think that books will wither away in the future to be replaced by reading on the Internet?  What’s that…do I hear a vast shrugging of shoulders?  Well, Lawrence Weschler, whose lecture I heard last week at the Penn Humanities Forum, is awfully worried that books are in danger of dying at the “hands” of the world wide web.  And he’s so worried he talked exclusively about that issue for an hour.

Lawrence Weschler speaking at the Penn Humanities Forum last week. The speech included lots of online moments and a bunch of YouTube videos the author had downloaded proving he loves the internet and noodles around there as much as any of us.
Lawrence Weschler speaking at the Penn Humanities Forum last week. The speech included lots of online moments and a bunch of YouTube videos the author had downloaded proving he loves the internet and noodles around there as much as any of us.


Weschler is a book author, former New Yorker writer and Chicago Humanities Council Director who also has a gig online at McSweeney’s — the Convergence Contest in which funny cross-time allegiances are forced via imagery (Goya’s Saturn eating his children and George Bush kissing a baby but looking like he might be Saturn eating his children).  The contest appears in a blog-like format with links and links within links.

Anyway, Weschler’s death of books doomsday thinking spun out of a talk he had with his apparently very young editor, Eli, at McSweeney’s who put the nay to Weschler’s idea of making the Convergence Contest a book.  Said Eli, it doesn’t need to be a book because it’s online.   From that, the writer extrapolated a future loss of print publications due to some peoples’ (young peoples’ was the implication) thinking that,  as he put it, “we don’t need books anymore.” It seems to me a very big leap to go from Eli’s response to a particular project to the generalized fear for the death of books, but that’s another subject.

Here’s my question.  Wasn’t television supposed to kill books?  Or movies on demand?  Maybe before that it was radio that was going to slay the written word.  So, how invincible are books?  They’re still here, and Oprah still has a book club and, while bookstores seem to be going out of business, book publishing does not. And, Amazon, with its online-only business model, is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs ever–selling BOOKS, online no less.  Maybe the Internet is good for the future of books.

I believe books will always be with us–we love books.  Reading in the real world is pleasurable and reading online is not (at least right now).  One hundred years from now we may have an electronic interface that will be comfortable and wonderful…if so the interface will probably emulate book reading in the real world.  But we will still have books!  We may not be printing on paper made from trees by then.  We may be printing on reeds or fiberglas or film or ….who can imagine?  But I can’t believe that humans will do away with the slow interface that is reading a printed tome in the real world.

So, is Weschler paranoid?  Or do you think we need a save the books movement?

And for extra credit,  does young Eli’s dismissal of the idea to bookify the Convergence Contest make sense to you?  Would you bookify this blog you’re reading right now?  Discuss.

Tags

books, lawrence weschler

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