Category Archives: nunberg

a book by any other name

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand, but it comforts me to look back on the past and see that some questions are important enough to revisit in each new age. In the 1996 collection The Future of the Book, edited by Geoffrey Nunberg, there are several essays that treat the same questions that we are concerned with now: how will reading change in the digital environment? What will be the form of digital texts? What role for the author? The reader?
Dan’s recent post provoked a range of commentary that clearly illustrates the ongoing status of the debate. Despite the fact that these questions were raised, and treated, more than a decade ago—and certainly even further back, in texts I am unaware of (please make recommendations)—their answers are still unknown, which makes their relevance undiminished. The discussion is necessary, as Gary Frost pointed out, because “we do not have a vernacular beyond synthetics such as blog or Wiki or live journal or listserv.” We haven’t developed a canonical term for this idea of a digital text that includes multimedia, that accretes other text and multimedia from the activity of the network. When you are working at the edges of technology, inventing new terms of art to try and explain and market your concept, the jargon production is fever pitched. But we just haven’t been exploring this question long enough to see what odd word will stick that can serve to separate the idea of a physical book, in all its permutations, from the notion of a networked book, in its unexplored mystery. It’s a fundamental direction of our research at the Institute, and the contributions from our community of readers continues to be instructive.