Throwback Post: June 2006 – Lost in Digitization

 

From 2006 through 2011, I wrote a blog for North Suburban Library System, the now-defunct consortium which included the library I worked for. I wrote about books, authors, libraries in general and my own, and topics relevant to that period of time. Looking back over the posts is nostalgic. It’s like a time capsule.

Re-reading what I wrote reminds me of the urgency serious readers felt upon the upsurge in eBooks, the fear bound books would give way to digital. J.K. Rowling was still publishing books in the Harry Potter series, and I was still a librarian.

Some of these are a bit rough, hopefully not as well-written as I’d produce today, considering it’s been a decade and I’d like to think I’ve grown as a writer. Still, I wanted to keep a selection and thought what better way than transplanting them here.

The first of these I’ve left as is, no edits.


 

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Ever thought about how the age of the blog will impact the future of arts and letters? Specifically, what will become of the collected letters and diaries of today’s great authors once they’re gone, considering so many of them are using online forums to blog their thoughts?

Imagine if such great diarists as Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf had lived in the age of the internet. How different would their collected letters and diaries be?

Pepys constructed a rather elaborate code in the writing of his diaries, a fact that indicates he knew people would puzzle over them. He probably snickered all the way to the grave, knowing how people would scratch their heads over his diaries. It worked for a long time, too, and the literary detectives were baffled a good long time. Pepys died in 1703 and the first edition of his diaries wasn’t published until 1825.

The fact of the matter is, the cheeky thing had actually tucked a key for his shorthand into some books shelved above the actual diaries themselves. Still, it took years for scholars to locate it and then puzzle out his volumes and volumes of handwritten diaries.

If Pepys were writing today would he just make up a blog pseudonym for himself (a blogonym?) and hide behind that, instead of his elaborate system of shorthand? Instead of scratching out his diary on sheets of vellum, employing his trusty quill pen, he’d type them out on his laptop.

Decidedly unromantic, if you ask me.

Virginia Woolf left behind a wealth of letters, diaries and manuscripts. If she hadn’t handwritten them we wouldn’t know about her penchant for violet ink, nor would we see her scratchings out, her little doodles along the margins, etc. If she’d typed them on her computer all we’d have to analyze would be her choice of font, use of bold and italics, and how often she failed to scan for homonym typos. Spell check would take care of all her endearing mispellings (and she did have a few of those), and all would be uniform and sanitized.

Imagine if, after she’d typed out her now famous suicide note to husband Leonard and best friend Vita Sackville-West, there’d been a delivery error. How ironic to get a Fatal Error message while sending your suicide note, eh?

What, then, will the future of the collected writings of authors be like? Instead of tracking down handwritten documents we’ll have to send in the Geek Squad to tap into their hard drives, as well as the hard drives of those with whom they corresponded. The search will be on for their Blackberries, their cell phone records and even their iPods. Handwritten documents? What are those?

While it is rather satisfying to read the blogs of today’s writers, it still gives one pause thinking what this will mean for the future. It’s a mixed blessing. We hear more from them during their lifetimes, and they’re definitely far more accessible, but once they’re gone what we’ll have left will be far less personal.

I guess we’ll have to reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of progress, but personally I think a lot of the charm will be lost in the process.

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