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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: Electronic Scholarship
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 843. Friday, 25 November 1993.
 
From:           James McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
Date:           Thursday, 25 Nov 1993 15:28:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        electrotexts
 
In reply to Timothy Bowden's suggestion that reading bound books is analogous
to trudging uphill in the snow eight miles (barefoot in the dark...hungry), I
have to say that there are important differences.  First, I made no claims
about the moral goodness of book research; and second, trudging uphill etc. is
a hardship of poverty, while using actual books for research is a limitation of
convenience.
 
Now, let me make some claims about the moral goodness of book research.
 
Books, like us, are partly tangible, real objects.  There is virtue in not
straying too far from that peculiar balance of material and ephemeral.
 
Electrotexts are virtually infinite, instantaneous.  They accelerate the
movement of information, but at the same time debase that information by making
it totally ephemeral, immaterial, as it were.  Sure we can print it out, but
the printout is obselete so quickly that it is better to keep it on disk, where
it can be instantly and invisibly updated, kind of like history in _Nineteen
Eighty-Four_.
 
One final point may be taken as fond remembrance of trudging, but is not at all
the same thing.  While searching for something in a book, I must wait a lot.  I
can't find things immediately.  Often I have to go find another book.  While
searching, I find other things, I am open to a world that I had not counted on.
And I must wait, and in waiting learn patience.
 
If the desire to keep contact with the world and to learn patience are marks of
scholarly snobbery, then a snob I am.  The libraries have been free for
generations.  There is nothing hidden there for scholars alone.  Now the
learning necessary to make meaning of what is in the libraries.... But then,
that requires patience.
 
Notice that I write electrotext.  I am not obstinate or a luddite (they had a
good point--look them up), just SKEPTICAL.
 
Ponderingly,
 
James McKenna
 

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