So with all the extra activities of summer time, I enjoy my magazines even more because they offer succinct, timely windows on things of interest. One of my favorite magazines is The Atlantic which is the oldest, continuously published magazine in the United States. Now we have a choice of reading it in print or electronic form. That is, in fact, the topic of Alan Jacobs’ article “How Books Learn”. He extended my knowledge of a new movement I was only vaguely aware of: object-oriented ontology or OOO. As he wrote, “The key question of OOO is summed up in the subtitle of Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology: What It’s Like to Be a Thing.”
Citing a recent OOO book, How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, he goes on to discuss how books are things in an often more personal way than buildings. Yet both change over time and with varying use. He notes the difference between the physical book as the format holding an idea or narrative and the concept of that idea or narrative that exists and gets re-formated and even translated, so to speak, over time and in different cultures that have other related events or ideas in play. The extended example he outlines for the reader is the Iliad which he traces from song, through transcription, to being copied by scribes, eventually printed and now available electronically.
It is a very short article but one I value because he helped me understand that “electronic reading is simply another stage in the education of books, and maybe not one of the more eventful ones”. I love that because it may finally help my aging eyes (and concept of reading) find peace with what feel like big changes to me. My age peers wax eloquent on the wonders of e-readers that allow us to change font size and background color. I think some of my resistance has been related to fear-of-losing-the-text.
Now that I consider the possibility that what seems a big change is only one step in a long process that has preserved (and changed, I know) many of the classics I still enjoy reading, I am ready to go back to my magazine reading online.