Friday, April 18, 2008

Don't Everybody Start Thinking About Print At Once

This is a lot for a Friday:

  • Stephen Fry, "The Machine that Made Us," a documentary about Gutenberg, movable type and the printing press is available on YouTube (via Kottke)
  • Kevin Kelly thinks about print and computing, via Gutenberg and Joseph Weisenbaum's Computer Power and Human Reason
  • Dan Visel at if:book writes about Robert Bringhurst's The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology which revisits the whole writing, print, orality triad (add electronic text and you've got a foursome)

One of the things in which I'm interested here are the different historical strategies we take to try to understand these and other modalities of language. Can we use X to better understand Y, or Y to better understand X (for example, using print to understand the digital or the digital to understand print)? Do we "return to the source" and try in whatever limited a way to immerse ourselves in a predecessor's world (for example, Gutenberg's or Weisenbaum's)? Or do we stand in our own space, gaining either a critical distance on some other structure of meaning or an estranged point-of-view on our own? Or is it some combination of all of these?

Putting it another way -- to what extent must we misunderstand what we're not? And to what extent must we misunderstand what we are? Finally, is there a way to distinguish a serious or useful misunderstanding from one that simply gets it wrong?

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