I foresee a time when, as a knowledge source, the Internet will not be just an interesting gimmick, or even a flashy but shallow alternative to print sources, but the principal home to a "knowledge domain," that amorphous "center" to the essential facts, opinions, and sheer ethos that holds an academic discipline together. And I foresee it happening, like, soon. Not because electronic text in and of itself reads better on a computer monitor; no, the printed page is still easier on the eyes and more inviting. Nor because the writing that appears in the electronic world is superior to that which appears in the print world. No one who loves the written word would make that claim...yet.
But what electronic text has, and it has indisputably, is access. And access makes up for a lot of glaring screen and shoot-from-the-hip writing. The "text snobs" don't worry about access; they dwell in the realm of text and spend many hours in dim, chic bookstores and spend money on good books and spend time, lots of time, reading lots of printed words. They have patience with long, complex passages, deriving a sort of masochistic pleasure in being able to tease meaning from dense, self-indulgent paragraphs. This is their job, squeezing drops of timeless brilliance from sentences pointed directly at them and at few others. They cruise the hieratic, often informed more by what others can't do than by what they themselves can. A large part of me -- more before than now -- is "text snob."
But the Internet is going to pop a lot of bubbles upon which America's self-defined literati ride, and we are going to find words, millions and billions of words spilling out at the base across a once video-saturated country which will then re-recognize the power of language. The Internet is going to put language back into popular culture, porting it through a new popular medium that lives not in pictures and sounds but in written words, albeit on a lighted screen (and undoubtedly woven amongst pictures and sounds in almost unbelievable combinations). These words that will stream out into America, unrestrained by the normally restraining elements -- the publishers and editors and educators and the old universally recognized "word bosses" and, most of all, market pressures from the old distribution processes -- these streaming words will do something different than before.