Tuesday, 28 February 2012
The End of Books
As 19th century predictions of future technology go, I think this one is pretty impressive. The story is set in London, and concerns a group of Victorian gentlemen who discuss what the future might hold. When one of them is asked about the future of books, he says “If by books you speak of our countless collections of paper, printed, sewn and bound... I tell you frankly that I do not believe—and the progress of electricity and modern mechanics forbids me to believe—that Gutenberg's invention should not soon fall more or less into disuse as a medium for our intellectual products.”
“Gutenberg’s invention” refers to the printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. Ironically, the text of Uzanne and Robida’s “La Fin des Livres” is now available in electronic form on a website called Project Gutenberg!
So is the prophecy of “the end of books” coming true? In one sense it is, and in another it isn’t. Uzanne and Robida imagined that the printed word would die out, to be replaced by voice recordings. There is little sign of this happening -- there are such things as “audio books”, but only as a fringe interest. Most people use the written word as much as they ever did... if not more. But the “written word” appears increasingly on LCD screens rather than printed paper -- so in that sense this is one Victorian prediction that was spot on!