Sunday, September 20, 2009

That Unthinkable Future

In 2005 John Updike wrote a poem about his birthday. It included the lines:

A life poured into words -
apparent waste
intended to preserve the thing
consumed.
For who, in that unthinkable
future
when I am dead, will read? The
printed page
was just a half-millennium's brief
wonder...


Unthinkable future indeed.

Shortly after reading this I had yet another discussion with Giordano about tags (and/or labels) not really being about serendipity but for structure. He had previously emphasized discipline with the mostlycolor tags to the point of giving me a small figurine of a Pueblo storyteller for my desk.



The mother figure is shown surrounded with children listening to her stories. But the figurine is just a metaphor for tagging. Each child is a thread that emerges over time with thoughtful and consistent tagging.

Fine I will not add a John Updike, poetry or half-millennium labels to this post.

But have we reached the unthinkable future?

Late last week, a partnership between Google and OnDemand was announced which would allow allow books digitized by Google Books to be printed (and finished) by OnDemand's Espresso Book Machine. If you haven't seen an Espresso Book Machine yet it looks something like this:



OK so once Updike's poems pass into the public domain (you do the math) then you might be able to get a copy printed on demand via this partnership. Sounds good. John may be remembered even after my glass is long empty. I for one think it was great that "he was still asleep when we went to school, and was often home already when we got back".

Then I hear Neil Postman whispering: "We might even say that the printing of the Bible in vernacular languages introduced the impression that God was an Englishman or a German or a Frenchman--that is to say, printing reduced God to the dimensions of a local potentate." And I'm left struggling with another deconstructed medium projecting a disproportionate sense of scale to the participants of that deconstructed medium.

Kind of like blogging (the first medium born deconstructed?).

And in in that same Postman essay is an aside to Solomon's proverbial wisdom. A whopping 3000 proverbs. An oral tradition in which presumably every spoken word was in the public domain. The competitive advantage was then the way in which those words were spoken, remembered, expressed and maybe lived.

What an unthinkable past.