Space Ramblings

The Trembling Books

There’s fear on Grub Street these days with a lot of publishers and writers worried about what the internet will do to their field. Sometimes that’s expressed gracefully with lawsuits and sometimes less gracefully with public tantrums. But either way it gets expressed. Of course everyone is afraid of the internet these days, but the publishing industry has been afraid of everything in the past.

The cultural guardians warned us once upon a time that nickelodeons would destroy American culture. Then they warned us that comic books would do it. Then they warned us that TV would do it. They considered warning us that video games would do it, but they couldn’t even figure out what those were. Today book people, tv people, movie people and even video game people agree that the big problem is the internet where everyone just takes things without paying for them and has no respect for their elders.

Which is not one of those original arguments really. Once upon a time monks probably worried about what printed manuscripts would do to the fine high cultural art of making them by hand. They worried about what kind of degraded culture would mass produce books. And they worried about a world in which everyone could just run off a few hundred copies of anything without getting permission first. Good thing they didn’t get their way, right?

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