Sunday, July 28, 2002

Back to reverence and words--when there are fewer words we value them more. In Augustine's day, books were so scarce and costly that they came with no spaces between words and paragraphs; owning a book was like owning a Mercedes. Today I can walk into any number of Bargain Books outlets and scoop up any number of nonsensical titles for $3.98. I can buy the New York Times for a buck. With spaces between the words. But when words hit the Web, and appear and disappear like lightning, they have almost zero value, they hardly exist at all. We have gone from reverence to hardly noticing.

In Quentin Schultze's aforementioned upcoming book, he mentions how Vaschlav Havel came to value reading and writing while a political prisoner in Europe. He was allowed only four pages of written correspondence each week, with the threat of censorship and no promise that they would ever be delivered. Havel writes that he came to treasure each word on each page; he realized what a gift communication was. The danger of blogging is that the easy ability to do it endlessly means we stop caring about words themselves; and judging from many blogs I've seen today, that is exactly what has happened.

This is how I put it to a friend earlier this week in an e-mail: "Words in cyberspace are ephemeral, fleeting, and nonexistent at the push of a button, whereas they were held, pre-Gutenberg, in reverence, and ever since, words on paper have been enduring, anchored on the page, held in the hand."

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