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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 28, July 11, 2010, Article 17

ESSAY: IN DEFENSE OF THE MEMORY THEATER

Tony Hine also forwarded a link to this interesting (and lengthy) essay by Nathan Schneider about books, real and virtual, and what is lost in going online. Here are some excerpts. -Editor

Laptop in classic library What concerns me about the literary apocalypse that everybody now expects—the at least partial elimination of paper books in favor of digital alternatives—is not chiefly the books themselves, but the bookshelf. My fear is for the eclectic, personal collections that we bookish people assemble over the course of our lives, as well as for their grander, public step-siblings. I fear for our memory theaters.

Yates takes us back to the Greeks, who held memory to be the plumbing of one’s soul, a vital tether between the sensory world and the eternal forms. They knew that Mnemosyne, memory’s personification, was by Zeus the mother of all the muses. The Greeks and then the Romans created imaginary edifices by which they could carry entire speeches, taxonomies, and epics in their heads.

The decline of actual, physical book-publishing has been taking longer than it was supposed to. Way back in 1992 Robert Coover announced in The New York Times that printed books were as “dead as God.” His doomsday was premature. But the digital offerings of Amazon and Google, along with their ever-better delivery devices, promise that finally the end may be nigh. Crotchety complaints about screen-reading aside, it should be obvious to anyone who cares about information that in many respects digital text is a superior technology to the printed page.

Now our job is to figure out how to be cleverer than the search engine; when certain ways of finding information become easy, the knowledge really worth having becomes what those methods don’t turn up, what the crawlers somehow managed to miss. As the Temple of Knowledge comes to look ever more like the Googleplex, public libraries are downsizing their reference desks, presuming that for every query an internet search will suffice.

Libraries absolutely cannot keel over and let Google replace them. They are our collective bookshelves, the memory theater for a community.

To read the complete article, see: In Defense of the Memory Theater (www.openlettersmonthly.com/in-defense-of-the-memory-theater/)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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