Sunday, June 15, 2008

This Is What I've Been Trying To Say...

Robert Darnton at Harvard just published an amazing article in the New York Review of Books on the "information revolution". His argument is that the current hand-wringing about the internet's destruction of textual stability is untrue. Texts have always been unstable. Here's a brief passage:

Each change in the technology has transformed the information landscape, and the speed-up has continued at such a rate as to seem both unstoppable and incomprehensible. In the long view—what French historians call la longue durĂ©e—the general picture looks quite clear—or, rather, dizzying. But by aligning the facts in this manner, I have made them lead to an excessively dramatic conclusion. Historians, American as well as French, often play such tricks. By rearranging the evidence, it is possible to arrive at a different picture, one that emphasizes continuity instead of change. The continuity I have in mind has to do with the nature of information itself or, to put it differently, the inherent instability of texts. In place of the long-term view of technological transformations, which underlies the common notion that we have just entered a new era, the information age, I want to argue that every age was an age of information, each in its own way, and that information has always been unstable.

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