December 28, 2013

From Gerald R. Lucas
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The Web v. the Book

Ipad-reader.jpeg

When I spoke at the Norman Mailer Society Conference in 2005, I was asked to discuss the position of literature and English Studies at the beginning of the twenty-first century, how the work of Norman Mailer fit into these cultural and intellectual trends, and recommend ways that the Society might continue to flourish in a still incunabular information age.

In 2005, books and the system that supported their publication still reigned supreme; thus US alone published 282,500 new titles, about 40,000 of which were fiction. Also in the fall of 2005, The Facebook, a successful social networking site for colleges and universities, had just launched its version for high schools; it was still a year away from opening its digital doors to the world’s Internet users, but it already showed the growing popularity of Web 2.0 applications and their integral foundation of community built on members’ affinity. And in 2005, the world had not yet heard of an iPhone; its launch wouldn’t be for another year and eight months.

In my talk, I highlighted the growing disparity between our play on the internet and our serious work as literary scholars and aficionados. I advocated flexibility and patience to help us through this transition from atoms to bits. I suggested that it’s up to us canon builders to decide what’s important, in Toni Morrison’s words, to “pass on” in both senses: that is, what needs to be preserved and emphasized for the coming generations and what it is we can safely leave behind. If anything, our digital lives — with their ever-increasing glut of information — blurs this distinction not only for us, but especially for those who have never known a world without the Internet.asked to discuss the position of literature and English Studies at the beginning of the twenty-first century, how the work of Norman Mailer fit into these cultural and intellectual trends, and recommend ways that the Society might continue to flourish in a still incunabular information age.

In 2005, books and the system that supported their publication still reigned supreme; thus US alone published 282,500 new titles, about 40,000 of which were fiction. Also in the fall of 2005, The Facebook, a successful social networking site for colleges and universities, had just launched its version for high schools; it was still a year away from opening its digital doors to the world’s Internet users, but it already showed the growing popularity of Web 2.0 applications and their integral foundation of community built on members’ affinity. And in 2005, the world had not yet heard of an iPhone; its launch wouldn’t be for another year and eight months.

In my talk, I highlighted the growing disparity between our play on the internet and our serious work as literary scholars and aficionados. I advocated flexibility and patience to help us through this transition from atoms to bits. I suggested that it’s up to us canon builders to decide what’s important, in Toni Morrison’s words, to “pass on” in both senses: that is, what needs to be preserved and emphasized for the coming generations and what it is we can safely leave behind. If anything, our digital lives — with their ever-increasing glut of information — blurs this distinction not only for us, but especially for those who have never known a world without the Internet.

Read more in Digital Culturist.