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Re: Digital Books (Was "Digital Dark Age")

On 2/16/99 08:30 Chris Palmer said:

>From: Barbara Harman <
>>In a message dated 2/15/99 8:18:33 AM, you wrote:
>(Peter Verheyen)
>><<Since we're on the subject of digital technologies, how do all of you
>>about the uses of hypertext and purely digital books, ie created and
>>viewable only in a digital media.>>
>>My response to this is that, like computers themselves, they are inherently
>>classist (and, by extension, often racist). Fine, if your intended audiance
>>small, highly educated and relatively rich; not so great if you desire to
>>communicate with a large and diverse populace.
>I honestly can't understand how you can say this. A very respectable
>computer costs under $1,000 these days, and the used market is in the low
>hundreds. Many libraries have free computers with internet access, internet
>access cost from free (freenets) to perhaps $40/mnth for high speed cable

If you are talking about the United States, there are still areas that
cannot access the Internet without a long-distance toll call, and there
are a lot of people for whom $1000 up front and $25 a month is a
prohibitive expense. Freenets aren't everywhere, and most librarios
restrict computer use. (Ever been in a library that requires a
reservation to read a book and then makes you give it up after an hour?)
Outside the United States ability to access the Internet depends on
location and economic status. Some areas have good access, some have good
access for the wealthy and powerful, some don't have good access for

>Five years ago the only people on the internet were university people and
>professionals. Today its everybody. Two years ago, my carpenter cousin told
>me he was chatting about his favorite web sites with another carpenter while
>shingling a roof. Its much more widespread today.
>I think there are few things more subversive than computers. Think of mp3
>music files and the effect they will have on the music industry. Consider
>Linux, a free operating system created by thousands of programmers that is
>actually better than  commercial systems, the gnu public license and
>"copyleft" ( the software is free with source code, anything you write with
>it must be free with source code...)  . Nothing has given power to the
>people like microcomputers.

Linux doesn't give power to the people. It may be advantageous to a group
of well-off computer enthusiasts, but it does absolutely nothing to
improve the lives of those who live in the slums of Mexico City or Rio,
and it really doesn't offer anything to those who live in poverty in the
U.S. The primary effect of mp3 seems to be that it allows the possessors
of high-end computer equipment to pirate music.

>>, what I have always
>>loved about books is their portability and their (relative) democracy.
>While a single book is cheap to buy, books are expensive to make, require
>expensive machinery and skill, and even more to distribute. The internet
>allows every voice to speak, and more important, to be heard. Not just those
>with several thousand dollars for printing and distribution. It is the first
>many to many system in history.

Books require the publisher to invest in some relatively expensive
equipment (a press and binder) and require the reader to provide,
exxentially, an eye capable of reading the printed words. The internet
allows the "publisher" to invest in less expensive equipment, but
requires every reader to obtain similar equipment. Skill is required for
both if a good product is to result. The internet does not reduce the
total cost, it merely spreads it over more people. For the average
reader, and for the average library, books are cheaper. They are also, as
mentioned, more portable.

>>it is true that even literacy is a class issue  (see "Central Station" the
>>film from Brazil, if you question this assertion),
>I suspect that you see everything as a class issue; what a pity. I see a
>collapse of the class structure as the literacy and skilll requirements for
>the skilled trades increase and the corresponding  need for management
>declines. I see a more inclusive and less exclusive society.

So the skilled trades will move further up the ladder. What about the
unskilled trades? What happens to those people without the literacy and
skills to become part of the skilled trades? Do they count for nothing in
your vision of the future, or did you just ignore them?

Paul Baechler

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