Sony and Stony



I am struck by how closely the dimensions of  the 7th century Stonyhurst Gospel (now renamed as St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of St. John) match the screen size of the Sony Portable Reader System PRS-505.  On the left is a model of the Gospel, which is described in the literature as being 134-138mm high, and 90-95mm wide (1:1.49).  The screen of the Sony Reader is 124mm high and 92mm wide (1:1.35).   Coincidence? Perhaps. But might their dimensions relate to our hand size or comfortable handheld viewing range?  These books are separated by 13 centuries!

I played with the Sony last weekend at the Small Press Fair in NYC. I was impressed by the resolution of the eink at any viewing angle, but page turns were agonizingly slow, and accompanied by an epeliptic inducing flash of background reversal– the text would go white, and the “page” black for a split second.  I also tried out a prototype of the next version, which has a touch screen interface, but doubt this would be a great advantage when reading.There is a promotion on now at Sony—  enter promo code:  10sonyclassic    You can get 10 free ebooks to read on your computer or ebook reader  from the “classics” collection– think 19th C. standard DWM’s.  

I think the Stonyhurst needs a tagline too.  How about “The Stonyhurst: Carry the Gospel of St. John in one hand.”

The Book is Like a Hammer

James Gleick wrote a op-ed about books, physicality  and publishing in the New York Times.   He writes, “As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete.”  This succinctly sums up the relationship between two of my passions- books and tools.  He ends with a charge to those who make books, “Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.”

Ascent of Man

It is always heartening to find traces of resistance to technological culture, like the graffiti pictured below.

I noticed the first example last year in Oxford, England.  The monkey on the far left looks positively joyful, perhaps existing in a pre-technological garden of eden. The transition between the man making a fist and the one holding the gun is compelling, and it is with the appearence of the gun that the man stops walking–in the next picture he reverts to kneeling. The advent of tools, in this case a gun, threatens the entirety of past evolution and seems to put a halt to human progress.   I often think of fire as the original technology, but warfare might be earlier.   Kubrick had an extended scene about monkeys discovering a bone cub which they use to kill each other in the movie 2001. On the other hand, several of the technologies that are used in Book Preservation (such as microfilming)  were originally developed by the military industrial complex.

Another take on the ascent of man, pictured below, was found last month while in Istanbul, Turkey.  A similar message, but a bit more ambiguous.  Is the man’s final step through a black door?  Is it into a grave?  Or is it a representation of an unknown future that we are carried into by our feet, since we are walking upright?  It reminds me of the monolith in Kubrick’s movie, 2001.

Some of the earliest forms of art used stencils, such as a hand, and it is interesting to see how durable this technique is. For a quick means of reproducing and distributing a visual image, is is perhaps unequalled.  Most of the graffiti (or writing as it is now termed) I see in NYC tends to be mindless tagging or acid etching of windows, which is not very interesting to look at.  But it accomplishes some of the same basic functions as all graffiti by saying “I am here, I have left my mark.”

Come to think of it, blogging could be considered internet graffiti–there are millions of people leaving their digital mark of what they thought about something, not knowing who will see what they have posted. As much as I love using and thinking about tools, I am always aware of their dual nature as Marshall McLuhan summarized so succinctly in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.  “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”  I wonder how using a tool like the internet will reshape us?

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