Papyralysis

If you’re a person who reads, please, pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or other beverage of choice, sit for 15 minutes and read this essay. Agree or disagree, print-lover or e-lover, there’s a lot to think about here.

Jacob MikanowskiPapyralysis by Jacob Mikanowski

Are paper books becoming obsolete in the digital age, or poised to lead a new cultural renaissance?

November 14th, 2013

The following is a feature article from the inaugural issue of the LARB Quarterly Journal, which is now on sale in bookstores, at Amazon, and B&N.com. It is also shipped free to Sustaining Members.

WE’RE LIVING IN A WEIRD MOMENT. Everything has become archivable. Our devices produce a constant record of our actions, our movements, our thoughts. Forget memory: if we wanted to, we could reconstruct every aspect of a life with an iPhone and some hard drives. But at the same time, physical archives seem to be fading away. Once, they were supported by a whole ecology of objects and institutions, including prints, presses, notebooks, letters, diaries, manuscripts, and marginalia. Now, each of these is vanishing, one after another. Letters don’t get written. Handwriting’s been forgotten. Presses crumble. Paper molders. And everyone agrees: the book is next to go.

Of course it won’t happen all at once. Maybe it isn’t even happening now. Digital books are increasingly popular — but paper books are more popular still. Publishing is a mess — unless you’re a giant multinational or a thriving independent. Readership is in decline — but that depends on what you think ought to be read. Paper is a frustrating anachronism — and our offices and homes are full of it. The clash of  technologies that we’re living through is probably less a case of the silents vs. the talkies than of radio vs. TV. However popular e-readers become, paper books will still be able to carve out a space in their shadow, at least in the short term.

But how long will the short term last? It used to be possible to imagine books disappearing in the distant future. Now it feels like even money that it’s going to happen within our lifetimes. I grew up doing everything with pencil and paper. Now I’d rather whittle a fence than write an essay longhand. Paper is starting to feel like a Luddite affectation, on par with mustache wax or making your own yogurt. Pretty soon, with no context to sustain it, it’s going to slide into the realm of pure anachronism, the sort of thing you do to one-up your neighbors, and have to explain to your kids.

Read the full article @ The LA Times Review of Books.

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