Thursday, September 08, 2011

Michael S. Hart 1947-2011

from Yahoo News:

Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg and a pioneer in formatting print material for online use, passed away Tuesday at his home in Urbana, Illinois. A self-described "unreasonable" thinker, according to his obituary at Project Gutenberg, Hart invented the ebook in 1971.

I've had a post sitting in the drafts folder for some time, tentatively titled "Lit Blogging", which included the following article link:

Elizabeth Weingarten, Slate:"Fantastic Typing Machines"
A gallery of old typewriters that look more like sewing machines, phonographs, and torture devices.

This was published September 7th, the same day Michael Hart's obit appeared in the LA Times, and I suppose you could construe that as an irony. However it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Hart also liked typewriters and maybe even missed them. As far as I can see e-books are no more a threat to books than automobiles were to horses, although I wonder if e-books and the digitization of text will render access to three dimensional books(that you can't imperceptibly edit after the fact, a la 1984) a luxury item, per market forces. Maybe access to an undiluted historical record will also become a luxury good, like horses are in some places.

Having said that, I also imagine Hart recognized this was a genie that had to be let out of the bottle, and that corporatism and corrupt government practices were the enemy, not technology per se. For example he was against the expansion of copyright laws and the increasing commercialization of the commons, which of course are interlinked.

see also
Wired, "What kind of man wants to put the 10,000 most important books online by 2002 and make them available for free?"

(I'm not sure when this article was published, circa 1997. It refers to the pending Digital Millenium Copyright Act(DMCA), which of course became law the following year.)

via Maude Newton.

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.

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At September 09, 2011 4:45 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

Jon, it never occurred to me that e-books can be altered after they're sent to the device. Is this true?

At September 09, 2011 12:42 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi Mimi,
Well, there's this item from 2009:

So I'd think so.

At September 09, 2011 5:15 PM, Blogger micah holmquist said...

Call me a luddite, but I am opposed to a "e-books," which I like to refer to as really long blog posts. I mean, sure being able to carry 35,000 -or whatever the number is- books in a light weight device is cool. And if I ever need to carry that many books around, I'll buy a Kindle.

I suspect "printed books" will soon become like vinyl records where the cooler members of younger generations rave about how great they are. The big selling points will be the different sizes and different paper types, in my estimation. I plan to be part of the older generation that brags about how they never bought into e-books.

The beauty of a book, in my opinion, is that by reading it, I am forcing myself to engage with a very specific text for a long a period time. I get the same joy from other physical media. That doesn't happen with computers for me. (For instance, while writing this comment, so far, I've stopped to read unrelated websites twice. I'm also listening to an episode of WTF with Marc Maron. When I seem people with smart phones, I'm not amazed when their eyes are glued to them, I'm amazed when their eyes aren't. Although I believe it would be a terrible way to live, I suspect that if I had one, I would never put it down.)

What I have no doubt of is that reading books will not increase because of e-readers. I hardly ever see anybody reading a book in public anymore and the libraries I visit usually seem to have more people on computers than browsing the stacks.

At September 09, 2011 8:48 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

You Luddite!

At September 11, 2011 7:44 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Micah, there's also this:


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