Reading in the Internet Era: Toward a Medieval Mode of Understanding

By Mark D. West and Catherine J. West.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The business of publishing, in all its forms, has been informed by scarcity. The transition from papyrus to parchment, for example, was engendered by the competition between Eumenes II of Pergamon and Ptolemy V over whether the former’s library would outstrip that of Alexandria, leading Ptolemy to embargo shipments of papyrus from Egypt. The scarcity of printing material and trained slaves for copying were the hallmark of Roman publishing.
During the late medieval era, the beinining of a book culture developed in Paris, Bologna and other centers of learning. With the development of this “manuscript culture,” stationers, licensed by universities, would rent out ‘pecia,’ segments of manuscripts, so students and others might copy them.
The modern publication system bears a substantial resemblance to the Roman system; publishers select books based on their estimation of market appeal, and readers select books based on a combination of reputations and recommendations. But, in the era of the Internet and e-books, resource scarcity is increasingly not a concern in the production of books. As in medieval manuscript culture, the scarce resouce may be the ability of readers to assimilate the onslaught of texts which can be placed in the modern scriptoria. Nevertheless, in the upcoming era, there will still be the need for entities who serve the role of determining the value of documents and of making recommendations. Such reviews will be heeded based on the repute of their own authors.
We argue here for a future for the book much closer to the medieval model, where individuals will collect fragments of texts, culled from the Internet, in a medieval-style commonplace book. This “vade mecum,” rather than the books written by others, will become the locus of meaning in the logorrheic world of the future.

Keywords: Authorship, Readership, Internet, Future

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.71-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 687.074KB).

Dr. Mark D. West

Professor, Mass Communication Department, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, NC, USA

Dr. West is a professor in the Mass Communication Department at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His research interests include communication ethics and pragmatics as well as public opinion.

Dr. Catherine J. West

Associate Professor, Director of Women's Studies, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Converse College, Spartanburg, SC, USA

Cathy West is an Associate Professor of French and Italian whose research focuses on autobiographical works by contemporary Caribbean and Maghrebi authors.

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