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Douglas Adams

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All due respect to Douglas Adams, but I’m a lover of print, and I’m not “confused” about anything.

I like Adams’ analogy. Indeed, only the logically obtuse would fail to recognize that a work of writing takes priority over the medium in which it is transmitted, just as food takes priority over the plate on which it is served. But it doesn’t follow that the medium (in this case, print) is unworthy of “love”. The food might be the primary purpose of the meal, but there is much more to a meal than the food itself, as any chef or server can attest. The same holds for writing. And just as in all other things mediated by culture, there is such a thing as appreciation for the medium. It’s called aesthetics, and everyone has their own tastes and preferences.

Perhaps Adams is a strict utilitarian with no affection for print. I respect his personal preference, even if I shrug off his apparent arrogance in not returning the courtesy. But some of us love reading the printed page and appreciate the art of the bound book, that has developed over the many centuries since Gutenberg. And our love of print has nothing to do with a failure of intellect, thank you very much. And some of us can actually appreciate history in a personal way without being luddites.

Presuming that the context of Adams’ statement is the ongoing digital revolution in publishing, I think it would be more accurate to say, “Opponents of digital publishing are simply confusing the plate for the food.” The distinction between “lovers of print” and “opponents of digital publishing” is an important one. That someone feels romantically about print doesn’t necessarily tell you what one thinks about the digital revolution in publishing. The issue at hand isn’t the subjective disposition one has toward books, but the stand that one takes in response to the history unfolding in our midst, perhaps even in spite of our emotional ambivalence about it. Of course: dismiss bad arguments from digital critics. But don’t muddy the water by assuming that the problem is nostalgia; the fallacy of many critics is not their emotion about books, but the inability to see past it.

I, for one, embrace digital publication, even if I will continue to critically follow the policy discussions regarding intellectual property that it brings about. And yet I will continue to participate in a community that values print. And while many of us will embrace e-readers, we will yet remain, to our dying days, proud collectors of analog volumes which will fill many shelves in our homes. And maybe through some turn of history our undying affinity for print will someday appear not so confused or misguided as once so arrogantly believed by some, but will instead be understood as possessing a wisdom unrecognized by the short-sighted utilitarians of our day. Then again, maybe future generations will forget our love of print altogether. No matter. Our love of books needs no vindication from history; we have the pleasure of the page in our hands. 

The above is a response one of my friends gave to Douglas Adams’ quote in the box above. I think his response is not only poignant, but gets to the heart of the matter for those of us who still love print but yet do not reject digital publication. His response is well worth reading.

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