Mechanical Dances

For the intellectual elites of the twentieth century, the printed book embodied the order and unity of culture; it was the guarantor of knowledge. The belief in the centrality of books was held by professional writers, literary scholars, philosophers, historians, and even by art historians and musicologists, who studied other media but set down their results in books and articles. Now, in the twenty-first century, the book is simultaneously changing form and losing status, and writers and humanists find these changes extremely traumatic. What is perhaps surprising is how untraumatic these changes are to others in contemporary media culture. If you walk from the back to the front of an airplane today, you are likely to see passengers in every row with digital devices: some reading books on iPads or Kindles; many playing videogames or listening to digital music. Yet others will be reading printed newspapers or paperbacks. For our…

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