Thursday, June 23, 2011

Everything I Know I Learned from Johannes Gutenberg

Today, June 23rd, we celebrate the 613th (or thereabouts)birthday of the inventor of moveable type printing, Johannes Gutenberg.

If you're a follower of this blog, you know that I've written before about the impact of libraries on my early life. On a hot summer day, there was nothing like the cool, dark comfort of a building full of books. I'd load up the rack on my bike and spend the next week by the kiddie pool in the back yard with a book propped on my damp bathing suited lap. Add a couple of peaches and that's still my idea of summer heaven.

Except now it's a Kindle in my lap. I feel a little guilty about that, and a little like I'm cheating on old Johannes. (BTW, according to Wikipedia, his full name is Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg. Try saying that tree times fast!) I have to give JG his due, after all. His invention is routinely ranked number one on the list of hot inventions of the second millenium. He ushered in a new information age and sparked a revolution in culture, science, and religion. It is not hyperbole to say that he and his invention transformed a world, not to mention giving me those wonderful afternoons in dusty libraries.

But I have to say, I am loving my new Kindle, especially for research. In something lighter than a box of crackers I've got dozens of books. Heck, I've got War and Peace in there. My son, usually a Luddite about such things, bought his so he could take his entire lirary along when he deployed to Afghanistan.

And so I can't help wondering along with other bibliophiles, what will happen to Gutenberg's invention in the age of the Kindle. Here's what The Institute for the Future of the Book has to say: The printed page is giving way to the networked screen. For the past five hundred years, humans have used print — the book and its various page-based cousins — to move ideas across time and space. Radio, cinema and television emerged in the last century and now, with the advent of computers, we are combining media to forge new forms of expression. For now, we use the word "book" broadly, even metaphorically, to talk about what has come before — and what might come next.

"What might come next--" it boggles the mind. Libraries have already changed, of course. My local library has offered e-books for several years, as well as the traditional books in stacks I remember so well. It just means those summer afternoons by the pool will look a little different.

Pass me a peach.

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