terça-feira, maio 08, 2018

Bone-in Meat without the Meat: "Proust and the Squid" by Maryanne Wolf




“Will the split-second immediacy of information gained from a search engine and the sheer volume of what is available derail the slower, more deliberative processes that deepen our understanding of complex concepts, of another's inner thought processes, and of our own consciousness?"

In “Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf”


Why wouldn't Amazon publish the ebook I wrote in 1986 on a ZX81 and posted to them saved on a cassette tape? On the other hand, I once (1988, I think) did the work for a non-linear dynamics paper on my Sinclair Spectrum, and produced the diagrams using the Spectrum's printer, which used sparks to burn dots in the silver coating of the paper, then photographing and enlarging them. It was submitted to the very snooty college journal. They accepted it but wondered if I couldn't make better diagrams. They published anyway when I said I couldn't. How I wish I could recover this. It’s in one of the floppy disk in my attic at home…I’ve still got several programming nuggets I developed at the time. One of them was a chess compiler in C. If I had the hardware to read that kind of media (I’ve still got the floppy disks, but I no longer have the drive that went along with them…), I could recover most of them too if I really set my mind to it. But I wouldn't regard it as worth the effort, so they'll eventually get lost without anyone ever knowing whether they are worth saving. Only me…A lot of forensics software aims to keep old formats readable - so incompatibility is the least of our worries. Books last for hundreds, even thousands of years. Modern storage media do not. 'Bit rot' is going to become a serious problem...

That might be part of the reason we have books like these. Or because of the people they were written for.

Back in the day when I was attending The British Council, I treated myself years to a copy of the great Oxford English Dictionary, the full 20 volume version (I know what you’re thinking…; but this took place in the 80s). If I sat down to look up a word I could be there an hour later, reading the etymology of a completely unrelated word that I possibly didn't even know existed until that point. Because of that, I learnt to keep my discoveries to myself, on the whole, having seen the look of panic on other people's faces should I start with an enthusiastic recital of my discoveries. Whilst Wikipedia (and other online reference sources) do have a certain amount of serendipity, the joy of reading the next entry in a print encyclopaedia is hard to match. Ah, the joys of dictionary leafing! Also reminds me that, as a youngster, some of the encyclopaedia sets at home were one of my favourite things. Later on I bought the German equivalent. Oh, what joy! I must have clocked years looking up all sorts of wonders, tracing diagrams and designs and just having myself a proper party! Nevertheless, if I lose a book and it's gone, given a couple of minutes of WIFI and a mobile phone I can download any one of millions of books for free anywhere in the word, with paid-for Kindle type services. Plus, they're closing all the libraries, where is one supposed to go to get all this information and look things up? Especially if the required lookup is needed in the middle of the night for instance. Sadly, we're reaching a point where if it isn't on the net, somewhere, and indexed by a search engine, it may as well not exist. There is a sense of sensibility in this day and age for printed matter, but, as with the stone tablets Maryanne Wolf writes about (cuneiform, etc.), this will pass and soon. I think, in less than a generation (I probably won’t leave to see it), books will only be boutique gifts. There will come a time, possibly within the lifetime of you now reading this, when there will simply be no more books published. Novels, yes; collections of short stories; poems; plays; all manner of nonfiction--but it will all be electronic. Everything will be photonic, and when it is photonic and the cloud is a quantum entangled swarm of particles in orbit of the sun which powers that internet iteration, there will be legions whinging about the sad loss of electronics, and they will sound just as pathetic.

But the problem is not that we moved on from the printed page. What will be an utter disgrace is that no one will read Proust anymore. Proust's sort of fun if you have the time and uninterrupted stamina: if you let a day go by without keeping up the momentum it abruptly just turns into gossip about people you'll never meet. That can be diverting, on a long bus journey (because otherwise the yammering of the people behind you becomes irritating noise, whereas making sense of it is at least a good mental exercise). A bit of concentration and the books resolve into exactly what people claim, a Great Work about time, loss and our attempts to make sense of it all, but then life gets in the way and it turns back into eavesdropping on “fin de siècle” Parisian random stuff (loved the quite right at the beginning of the book). What I didn’t like is the fact Wolf seems to be writing a book without the “science” to support it. Starting the book with a quote by Proust was a good touch, but it’s bone-in meat without the meat…

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