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The Unlimited Library and the End of Authorship

Sunday June 25th 2006, 6:36 am

About a month ago Wired’s Kevin Kelly wrote an article for the Times talking about the digitalization of all books and how it may lead to the realization of the dream “to have in one place all knowledge, past and present”.

In today’s Times book review, John Updike’s responds, questioning it would mean for authorship.

In imagining a huge, virtually infinite wordstream accessed by search engines and populated by teeming, promiscuous word snippets stripped of credited authorship, are we not depriving the written word of its old-fashioned function of, through such inventions as the written alphabet and the printing press, communication from one person to another — of, in short, accountability and intimacy? Yes, there is a ton of information on the Web, but much of it is egregiously inaccurate, unedited, unattributed and juvenile. The electronic marvels that abound around us serve, surprisingly, to inflame what is most informally and noncritically human about us — our computer screens stare back at us with a kind of giant, instant “Aw, shucks,” disarming in its modesty, disquieting in its diffidence.


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