Gutenberg and the Kindle

John P. Oertel “Things as they were, and Things as they are” (1853)

John P. Oertel “Things as they were, and Things as they are” (1853)

In John P. Oertel’s “Things as they were, and Things as they are,” the artist renders Johann Gutenberg (on the pedestal) a villain whose invention sparked a never-ending series of cultural revolutions, each one taking us further from the bucolic era of simpler times. Oertel dramatizes the presumption that the handwritten text is morally superior to mechanically reproduced text. The drawing shows that anxiety over disruptive technologies has been a concern of cultural critics and commentators since at least the 1850s. If we take the artist’s suggestion that Gutenberg’s printing press is the source of our anxiety, then in fact the preoccupation is much older, dating back to the 1440s.

Like most Kindle owners, I have had conversations with ebook skeptics as well as fellow Kindle/nook/iPad owners about how we all recognize the topographical relationship between memory and printed books. Most people have had the experience of remembering approximately where in a book (the first, second, or third third of a physical book or codex) an event takes place or a character is introduced. And while we may not be able to call a page number to the tip of the tongue, we could, if challenged, flip the paperback’s pages to the scene pretty quickly.

Teachers: what disruptive technologies do you think will have the greatest impact on teaching over the next decade?  Read the rest and leave a comment over at Into the Marchand Archive

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