The Future of the Book
Geoffrey Nunberg, ed.

Books in Time
Carla Hesse

On the Impact of New Technologies

"The electronic revolution of the past half century has not so much changed modes of human inquiry as it has rendered opaque some of the most seemingly transparent and fundamental cultural choices faced by modern societies: how we determine -- as individuals, communities, and nations, and perhaps as a globe -- to use these information technologies and toward what ends.
The introduction of these new technologies has radically destabilized and transformed the legal, economic, political, and institutional infrastructure of modern knowledge exchange -- permitting, most significantly, the circumvention of traditional mechanical pathways of publication and communication. But these cultural consequences have less to do with the design of the microchip than with the forms of knowledge and modes of exchange that the introduction of microchip technologies has both wittingly and unwittingly made possible" (29).

On the Immediate Present

"What appears to be emerging from the digital revolution is the possibility of a new mode of temporality for public communication, one in which public exchange through the written word can occur without deferral, in a continously immediate present. A world in which we are all, through electronic writing, continously present to one another. There is, I would like to suggest, something unprecedented in this possibility of the escape of writing from fixity. What the digitalization of text seems to have opened up is the possibility for writing to operate in a temporal mode hitherto exclusively possible for speech, as parole rather than langue" (32).

On the New Mode of Temporality

"Digitalization, then, I am suggesting, is introducting a new mode of temporality into the modern literary system. It does not, and will not, however, impose new cultural forms. It is not inevitable that fixed forms of writing and modes of textuality such as the book will become extinct, or that we will all soon be living within a transparent utopian present constituted through scripted speech. Digitalization, rather, has created a new terrain upon which the literary system will now operate; it is a terrain that reconceives our mental landscape (both forms of knowledge and modes of apprehension and exchange) in performative rather than structural terms" (32).

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