Two recent pieces on the digital future of publishing don’t so much disagree as they do look at the world through very different lenses. While both lenses are important, it is easy in our fast-paced, do-it-now, do-everything-now, ADD culture to lose track of the one in light of the other.
The first article looks through the lens of the microscope. Miguel Helft in the New York Times alerts us to the new wave of e-books that are coming to mobile phones. Google is poised to make its 1.5 million public domain books available on phones. And Amazon is working to make its 200,000+ Kindle books available on a variety of mobile devices.
The second looks through the telescope. Robert Darton in the New York Review of Books asks if we are alert to the large-scale movements of information, freedom, monopoly, commerce and the public good when it comes to digital publishing. Is Google about to help us realize the Enlightenment ideal of making vast swaths of knowledge freely available to all for the good of all? Or will it monopolize knowledge and bring the ideal crashing down?
What’s in the first article is worth knowing. What’s in the second is worth pondering.
Read Darton’s piece to see how he answers these questions. One I would pose in addition is this: Is knowledge the answer? Is information enough? Being smart didn’t help Rousseau or even Jefferson be moral people. The Enlightenment ideal is also the Enlightenment myth that education makes people better. Education is helpful, important, needed, even required. It is necessary but it is not sufficient.
I am all for education and learning. I love both. I keep body and soul together because of the knowledge industry. But a society of knowledge only is not enough. (Many good science-fiction short stories built on such a premise would tell you the same.)
I very much appreciate the approach our friend Darton is taking to these issues. Too seldom do we take the long view and attempt to look lightyears into the night sky. The long view we must have, as well as the short. Now it is for all of us to delve deeply into the question of whether or not it is the right long view.