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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Everything I Know I Learned from Jacques Cousteau

This week, on June 11, we celebrate the 101st anniversary of the birth of oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.

I remember well the "Jaccques Cousteau Specials" on TV when I was growing up. (I'm not the only one. I read somewhere that Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, created the French narrator of the cartoon, who sounds an awful lot like Cousteau, as an homage.) They were a part of the cultural wallpaper of growing up in that era and I made it a point to watch whenever his shows were on.

But why? I wasn't particularly interested in oceanography, and certainly never dreamed of being a diver. I liked science, but never considered a career in it. And aside from Lenten Friday lunches of tuna salad sandwiches, I wasn't even particularly fond of fish. So in an age before "must see TV," what was it that made his specials so compelling?

No doubt it was his voice. Not just the rich French accent, though there was that. His slow, patient voice with that delicious accent still gives me goosebumps, and is what most people (like Hillenburg) recall of those TV specials. But it was more. Cousteau made oceanography accessible. He took
complex, esoteric scientific concepts and made them simple enough for everyone to grasp--without just dumbing down the science. He was a superb teacher and communicator. And he never failed to convey his enthusiasm for his subject matter. This was a man who clearly had a passion for the sea and all its wonders and he managed to bring us all along with him every time he spoke.

That is all I could ever hope to do for my readers. Without the fish, of course.