Sarah Werner offers a thoughtful, informed take on some issues I’ve raised here in, well, thoughtless and uninformed ways: “The digitization folks talk about access and the book folks talk about being in the presence of the object. Neither side tends to present a more nuanced sense of how they might each have something to offer the other, or to recognize that there might be other considerations and uses at stake.”

Read the whole thing, as they say, and then read the follow-up post. Great stuff.


  1. I have to say that the examples Werner gives for the value of having actual books to examine and study are a little underwhelming, compared with the huge and obvious value of having digital versions of those texts available cheaply and ubiquitously. The stuff she points to is interesting, but if we're forced to choose where to spend our money, I'm not sure that's a very strong case made for book preservation.

  2. I was much more interested in the points she quotes from James Gleick:

    It’s a mistake to deprecate digital images just because they are suddenly everywhere, reproduced so effortlessly. We’re in the habit of associating value with scarcity, but the digital world unlinks them.

    This reminds me of how when gold jewelery and bright colors were things only kings could afford, rich people wore stuff that seems really gaudy to us today. Now that almost anyone can wear bright colors and lots of jewelery, rich people tend to wear black with much more subdued, "tasteful" jewelery.

    Digital copying is going to make a lot of formerly scarce things easily available to everyone and we'll have to re-evaluate what we think is really valuable and what we valued simply for its scarcity. One of the first steps of that re-evaluation is likely going to be some knee-jerk rejections of digital versions of things merely because they are not as scarce as the physical versions were.

    I think you see a similar thing going on with movie critics who sometimes seem to reject computer-generated images more out of contempt for how "easily" they are created than for how they actually look.

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