First of all, I want to thank Mark for reading and responding to my essay. There’s a good deal to think about here, but I just want to clarify a couple of points where I think Mark is responding to things that I didn’t say.
For instance, Mark says, “The reflexive assumption that new books will be worse, that bibliophiles won’t find them appealing, that their aesthetic experience must be worse, is neither reasoned nor reasonable.” I agree! Thank goodness I didn’t say that crap.
I didn’t say that new forms of the books will be worse. In fact, I say that the “key virtues [of the codex] can be preserved, and perhaps even extended, in forms other than the paper codex.” But I don’t think that the new technologies will be better in every single way than their predecessors — because new technologies never are. There’s always something that you sacrifice. Mark writes, “The pen in my pocket is much better than the pen my father carried to war in the Philippines, and that pen was a marvel compared to the quill his grandfather, a learned man, must have used in the Pale” — which is true from most points of view. But if you want a writing technology that costs very little, that is easily replaceable, that is bio-degradable when disposed of, that requires no advanced energy-consuming technology to make, and that can be shaped to suit your particular writing preferences, then a quill pen might be just the way to go. Modern pens are inferior to quills in all those respects. Now, I’m not going back to quill pens because those aren’t my top priorities, but in every technological development that are some trade-offs, and not everyone will want to make them. That’s my point.
Thus: “Even when the aesthetics [of e-readers] are improved, as they surely will be, that development may not proceed in directions bibliophiles find very appealing.” NB: may. But I could have made the point more strongly and it still would have been right: as some quotations from elsewhere in my essay show, some people — most of whom are bibliophiles, or think of themselves as bibliophiles — simply will never be reconciled to books that aren’t made of paper. (There are people who won’t drive or ride in cars; Wendell Berry won’t use a computer.) Even people who will use e-readers for the sake of convenience will in many cases think that paper codices are aesthetically superior. This seems to me an absolutely obvious and incontestable point.
Most important: Mark writes, “This posits the readers (and the communicants) as passive beneficiaries or helpless victims adrift in a sea of technological forces they cannot master. … [But] people are not really like this.” Again, a misunderstanding of my point. I say that technologies shape our minds and our lives, I do not say that they completely determine our minds and our lives. Mark is working only with absolutist positions here — technological determinism or utter human freedom — but I’m not. I think widely-used technologies are powerfully influential but not determinative. The more widely used a technology is the more it pushes — or the people who use it and sell it push — us in certain directions. That pushing can be resisted, but often it’s difficult. Don’t we all know this?
So I don’t think Mark is actually responding to my arguments, but to a straw man who holds positions far more extreme and simplistic than the ones I hold and have expressed.
P.S. Mark also seems to believe a number of common myths about the historical relations between Christianity and learning: this book would be a good place to smart if he wants a more accurate picture of things.
P.P.S. For the sake of full disclosure, I have to acknowledge that Mark is the creator of the amazing Tinderbox, so he’s one bad dude.