Increased consumption of this new genre is changing the way we read.
Most readers, I think, will by now have seen the “Medieval Helpdesk” sketch from Norweigan TV, where an exasperated monk requires assistance to start working with a new-fangled and daunting “book”. It’s fun – if loopily anachronistic, the codex having been around since the 1st century AD. But it does rest on a presumption that I’m increasingly beginning to question: that technological changes to the way we read affect only the secondary, cosmetic and non-essential aspects of reading. There is a kind of bookish dualism at work. The text is the soul, and the book – or scroll, or vellum, or clay tablet or knotted rope in the case of quipu – is the perishable body. In this way of thinking, the ebook is the book, only unshackled from paper, ink and stitching. If the debate about the ebook is to move on from nostalgic raptures over smell and rampant gadget-fetishism, it’s time to think about the real fundamentals.