9780674055452 / 0674055454

Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace


Publisher:Harvard University Press



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About the book:

Avatars of the Word comments on the intersection of the history of written word and the explosion of cyberspace. Crafted with a meandering, laconic style, James O'Donnell wittily juxtaposes the modern and ancient.

Take, for example, the concept of the "virtual library." "The dream of the virtual library comes forward now not because it promises an exciting future," O'Donnell writes, "but because it promises a future that will be just like the past only faster and better." As children, many of us were raised with the sanctity of the library--the quietness, the beauty, the celebration of language, and the idea that this institution provides complete access to the "scarce resource" of information.

O'Donnell demonstrates that a future repository for knowledge cannot be based on the model of the "codex" (the first recognizable form for the traditional published book). Instead, we will be in a community where information is decentralized, no longer dependent on a finite circle of publishers. The importance of this shift can't be understated: countries base economics on centralized institutions, and--just as importantly--these places have psychological sway within us as keepers of our common humanity.

Unlike other authors who want to comment on the influence of the World Wide Web, O'Donnell--a professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania--has a sound foundation with which to validate his theories. He grounds his assertions in the writings of philosophers from Sophocles to Derrida. Proposing his ideas with light humor and elegance, O'Donnell releases recent technological developments from their current clichéd context. --Jennifer Buckendorff

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