I made mention the other day of an editorial in the NY Times (link) in which the author feared the implications of Google's planned digitization of millions of books from the world's major libraries. He or she was scared of potential copyright infringements and (I still find this to be silly) the possibility that books might be damaged in the process of scanning. My reaction was: This is so typical of this bunch. The people who cower in their cubicles at the "old (meaning fossilized) gray lady"and write of their fears of global warming, economic inequities, making enemies of the French, evangelical Christians, homophobes, NASCAR, Republicans, SUV's, chloroflourocarbons, McDonald's happy meals, and every drug on the market today would naturally hear the thrilling news about making literature easily accessible to everyone and react with ... "aaaaaaggggghhhhhkkkk. The world is coming to an end. We're all going to DIE!"
So then I turn to Suzanne Fields, a columnist for the Washington Times. A rational, persuasive (did I mention hot?) pundit whose opinions I respect. Here is what she has to say on the subject of the virtual library this morning:
She offers a few caveats regarding marginal downsides to the digital revolution but is, on the whole, as thrilled as I am that civilization continues to advance at breakneck speed. And she too ponders what the future has in store.
Google promises everyone on line an online Christmas present. The popular Internet search engine announces that it will make available on the Web volumes in the research libraries of Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and Oxford and other sources of collected knowledge, including the New York Public Library.
The latest promise for googling is mind-boggling. The promise coincides with the digitizing of many international libraries. We'll have to update McLuhan's famous dictum that the medium is the message. The message has become the medium, making it possible to read and write vast amounts of the written word for pleasure or to conduct arcane research without leaving home or office.
We've known for a long time that the Internet could be the turning point in the democratization of learning for the millennium, commensurate with the impact the printing press made on the previous millennium, offering a range of information and creative thinking for anyone curious enough to seek it.
"As the world hurtles on toward its mysterious rendezvous, the old act of slowly reading a serious book becomes an elegiac exercise ..."Two perspectives. One fearful of the future. The other in awe of the possibilities. Both worth learning from.