The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Recommended Reading about Digital Books

Yesterday I presented (with Keith Williams, link) a talk at Bible Tech titled “Paper to Pixels: How Technology Effects the Bible.” The topic was a huge one, more than we could cover in that session. So I wanted to share some of the background reading that has shaped my thinking and that went into this presentation. Here’s are a few links to various sources with a brief summary.

Christianity and the Future of the Book”—Alan Jacobs, Wheaton College professor, for a couple years dived into these same questions over at The New Atlantis. This is a good introductory text to a lot of the issues surrounding technology and the Bible, especially as it has unfolded throughout Christian history. He outlines the four reasons that Christians adopted the codex (bound book): economy, portability, integrity (unity), and sequentiality. This was helpful as we looked at which of these qualities is still present in digital and which ones digital has reconfigured.

 “No Exit”—Nicholas Carr writes about how digital “books” are edgeless, riffing off of Craig Mod (link). They have no mental boundaries for the reader. Everything is in the middle somewhere, which points to the reality that these texts become “multicentered,” something we mentioned in the presentations.

Scripture in a Digital Context”—Chris Ridgeway does some heavy lifting in this thesis that he wrote at North Park Seminary, and to good effect. Eight chapters are available in .pdf format with some additional resources, all to unpack this statement: “Scripture is the mediated (that is, in creation) revelation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and its illocutionary intent in salvation-history.” Chris recognizes many of the issues we brought up in our presentation and some of our terms are certainly indebted to his research. He draws primarily on McLuhan, Postman, and Ong for thinking on technology as an environment.

How Authors Write”—Jason Pontin’s great article in MIT Technology Review builds the argument that the character of what we read will only change when the authors use new tools to write. It’s the tools used for writing, not for reading, that changes the writing. It’s the typewriter, not the eReader, that matters.

Post-Artifact Books & Publishing”—Craig Mod’s forward thinking article from June 2011 illustrates the “digital kills books” mindset that pervaded a lot of thinking just two and three years ago. While the outlook has been tempered a bit since then, Mod’s discussion is still valuable. He understands the publishing process well and how digital upsets that process. He explores the collapse between authors and readers that digital books portends. Mod believes readers will be involved upfront as the author’s ideas develop into a book (via blogs mainly), and they will later add their own comments—“digital marginalia”—when the book is digitally published. Definitely worth the read in conjunction with Pontin’s article above—“How Authors Write”—which helps temper Mod’s predictions.

 “The Fate of the Notion of Canon in the Electronic Age”—Robert Fowler published this and the next article already back in 1994. His analysis of hypertext is largely spot-on and seems to be ahead of its time. He’s heavily influenced by Walter Ong’s 1982 book, “Orality and Literacy,” which was also an eye-opening book for me. The other thing I appreciate about this reading is the snapshot it provides of the Internet at 2 years old, including charming comments like “World Wide Web (=WWW).”

“. . . What Hypertext Can Teach Us About the Bible . . .”—Fowler’s second piece includes a lot of content from the previous article but includes more discussion of Ong’s concept of secondary orality, drawing connections between the oral era and the digital era. Fowler also proposes some potential ethical and political issues. While these aren’t of as much interest to me personally, I do think he anticipates a lot of conversations still going on today. Again, with charming current-event references like the “Clinton White House” and an FBI encryption-hacking controversy dubbed the “Clipper Chip.”