Books as cultural artefacts

Photograph: visitors at the Gutenberg Museum
Visitors take a look at a book at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz.
Landeshauptstadt Mainz

Books as cultural artefacts

Saying goodbye to a technology that cannot be improved?

We are still in the middle of a major re-calibration as a society about how we deal with our own memory.

Clifford Lynch, 2013

The world of books has changed since computers and the Internet as a technology and medium began their victory march. Whether in production, marketing and sales, the types of access to books and other published knowledge resources, in the organisation of libraries and archives and, last but not least, in reading behaviour – the effects of digitalisation and networking have penetrated all major spheres of activity in the book arena. However, the fact that there is also a traditional world of books that has become established over the centuries and which will remain in the future is undisputed.

As the Italian cultural theorist Umberto Eco explained in a speech in 2003, the book cannot be improved in terms of its technology. It is still the only medium that allows the reader to digest long texts virtually free of fatigue. Books remain unmatched in their function as long-term memories. They are capable of storing words for hundreds of years without having to worry about the memory format falling into obscurity or the medium becoming physically unusable – all properties for which the digital world has, as yet, nothing comparable to offer. Further advantages of books – that they do not require electricity, are shockproof, resistant to extreme temperatures, etc. – are so obvious that they are hardly worth mentioning. For this reason, printed works, as not only Umberto Eco certified, are likely to remain an import medium for the written word.