Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Place Elsewhere: Reading in the Age of the Computers

I stumbled across this summary of a speech given in 1995 by Vartan Gregorian (the president of Brown from 1989 to 1997) in which he addresses reading in the age of the computer. Is a fascinating and light little read. Gregorian holds some interesting if perhaps archaic and simplistic notions of reading and archiving in general. Gregorian tries to rectify what he sees as the conflicting tendencies of information technology to fragment and specialize data and to provide opportunities for creating connections. He even treats us to a quote where it is imagined that by 2000 books will turn their own pages at pace with the reader and perhaps even change their endings automatically based on their moods.

Echoing the call of Vannevar Bush, he claims "We must rise above the obsession with quantity of information and speed of transmission, and recognize that the key issue for us is our ability to organize the information once it has been amassed, to assimilate it, to find meaning in it, and to ensure its survival."

This call for an improved means of archiving seems to grow out of his mythical reverence for reading and the library as a place of "imagined rebirth."

While the piece offers limited new insight, it is compelling to examine how 13 years ago the president of Brown was coping with the influx and influence of computers on the academic scene.

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