06 March 2012

Old books

To what extent is a digital version a link to what has been? Not everything must be preserved — some things should be allowed to return to the form from which they arose. When an old book finally decays into dust and the imperfect fragments of memory, what has been lost, and how does that change if the text has been preserved in some non-corporeal way?

Do these questions prompt you to seek answers, or questions of your own?

All content © 2012 Pete McGregor


robin andrea said...

I have been thinking about books and photographs lately, how important as corporeal entities they really are. I think about how quickly digital formats change, how someday things stored digitally may no longer be read by some futuristic computing system. Laborious conversions will ensue, but how much will be lost? I have personally lost thousands of photos on a hard-drive crash. There is a reason we treasure old photos and books, things we can hold in our hands. Somehow digital versions just don't have the visceral quality necessary for that tactile moment. (And, on an entirely different note, corporeal books and photos can't really be altered the way digital things can and take on a life of their own.)

Zhoen said...

Nothing is ever really lost. Much as it feels that way.

Anonymous said...

Questions, it's always the questions. -Maureen

pohanginapete said...

Robin, thanks for those thoughts. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about the visceral quality of books, and I agree almost as much about the risks of digital storage. In effect, a published book often has thousands of backup copies, even if each edition is analogous to storage on the same brand and model of hard drive, with all the consequent risks.

Zhoen, I recently read an article about John Berger, in which the author noted Spinoza's assertion that everything, "will always be able to persist in existing with the same force with which it began to exist, so that in this all things are equal." Thought-provoking (and a good topic for discussion with friends who enjoy these kinds of discussions).

Maureen, I usually find questions more interesting than answers.

butuki said...

Oral story-telling was never preserved the way books are, and yet they lasted down through the ages and in some ways, because of their transmission, actually preserve human connections better than books do. Books can never really be shared with another person in the same way as an oral story can.

pohanginapete said...

Good point, Miguel. Books also have no, or a very limited, ability to change (adapt, evolve) the way stories do. I guess sometimes that's an advantage, but even when someone reads a book to another person (e.g. parent to small child) it's hard to see how the sense of connection can be as strong as a story told from memory.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
We, as a family, often drag out the old photo albums I brought from home, or that my mom has sent over through the years, and even up to the time here when I finally traded my old film camera in for the modern digital age. Rarely, if ever have we all gathered around a computer screen to view these newer photos. I know people say you can print them and put them in the books but I, for one, never seem to get around to that. There is something not quite the same as turning the old fading pages. Enjoyed your company the other evening e hoa.

pohanginapete said...

Robb, that's right — a photo album still offers the immediacy and consistency that most computers lack. Loading a photograph can take a while, and monitors vary hugely — a lovely photograph can look terrible on a lousy monitor.

A great evening, Robb. Many thanks to you and Tara :^)