ELENA DAMIANI

 

 

WORK:

 

INFO:





‘El futuro del libro’ originally conceived as an essay, presents a critical reflection regarding the book and its future, in the contemporary frame where the print coexists with a plurality of electronic media. From a historical perspective that examines the present and future through a clear understanding of the past, this text-video-narration describes the different possible futures of a technology that is oppressed by the accumulative weight of the proclamations of its soon to come death.


the future of the book video installation elena damiani

El futuro del libro. Video installation. 2011


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation
El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


elena damiani future book video installation

El futuro del libro. Video still.


El Futuro del Libro (The Future of the Book)
Audio translated to English
14 min. 42 sec.

Today our cultural objects, all those of the material world, advance towards a nonmaterial one. From a world centred on writing and print there is a progression towards the coexistence of the print with a plurality of electronic devices. A hybrid culture emerges, technologically interoperable, where material objects, such as the book, are vanishing into digital forms.

Non-linear interactive reading its occurring hastily in the Web. Even though we can start envisioning a culture without books, the explosion of digital information promotes the production of printed material, generating tons of unbound sheets of papers. Each day more dominated by images, proclamations about the death of the book are on the increase.
Will the Internet and the digital book turn the printed book obsolete? Printing made manuscript copying obsolete… Will the printed book become irrelevant, except for those nostalgic or romantics to the texture or aroma of paper.

While the book as a physical object is vanishing before us, its concept endures in metaphors that organize virtual spaces: hypertexts, web pages, bookmarks, etc. The word “book” may be used both to designate a written or printed text and the vehicle in which the text is transmitted. Its most common physical form for about 1500 years has been the codex. Or, if we take a wider historical approach, wax or clay tablets, stone inscriptions, papyrus or parchment rolls have also represented forms of books. Non-physical forms of the book, such as audio books and digital books further expand its concept with new attributes and characteristics.

A text whose physical form is similar to a codex contains an integral display mechanism in the form of pages where the information is written or printed. A digital file also requires a separate reading or display mechanism; without this device reading the text would be impossible.

Data scanned from print and injected into the vast ocean of bits and bytes becomes more easily quantifiable, measurable and more readily accessible than print material. However, it inevitably raises issues of overload due to the overwhelming variety and quantity that requires evaluation and categorization in order to be consumed.

EBook readers emulate printed books; they simulate the appearance of print on their screens, providing familiar typefaces, page formats, and even simulating the process of turning pages. Even though page formats of eBooks are restricted by screen sizes of the readers, and are not yet suitable for large format books, when it comes to portability, manufacturing costs, distribution and transportation, eBooks have tremendous advantages.

In addition, eBooks contain hyperlinks, which appear to interrupt the linearity of traditional narration with random access, replace narrative structures with lexias, and distinctions between reader and writer with an elision of consumption and production, becoming a means that, for many, could announce the triumphant deconstruction of old institutions and forms of authority and the origination of diverse ways of understanding and thinking.

We advance towards increased levels of interactivity through videos, audio translations, evaluative systems that allow verifying levels of comprehension and memory of each reader, and presumably adapt the text in order to assist readers in learning issues and concepts that may have been missed. At the same time, new novel formats may provide platforms for live exchange with reading groups and discussions between readers and the author.

There are valid reasons beyond either nostalgia or indifference to technology to question the choice between leaping to the new or drowning with the old. Amongst this textual revolution, voices of critical theory and postmodernism proclaim the supersession of old technologies and the liberation of information, demanding to leave the past behind. Olson, wrote: "had we not, ourselves (I mean postmodern man) better just leave such things behind us?" Lyotard affirmed that "the status of knowledge is altered … the general situation is one of temporal disjunction". Baudrillard also expressed repeatedly that things are "no longer… no more… never again… the way they were”.

While several theorists and technologists claim for the supersession of earlier forms, recalling the patricide words of Victor Hugo “This will kill that”, they forget that the archdeacon’s expression was a cry of loss and regret and not a call for substitution. Likewise, the apparent convergence of technological futurism and postmodern cultural theory fails to distinguish itself with decisive clarity from the very past it attempts to escape since it basically recapitulates what sought to supersede. Not looking to the past and the affectation of forgetfulness condemns inevitably to repetition.

Digital media researchers have repeated over and over the phrase “information wants to be free” to denounce the book as a means that confines information. Lanham argues the power of linear print and claims to "blow… wide open social limits imposed by the codex book.” Barlow claims information "has to move". Bolter invokes the "freeing the writing from the frozen structure of the page." Nelson suggests that only with new technology can the "true structure and interconnectedness of information" emerge, while Sterling argues that information "wants to change ... [but] for a long time, our static media, whether carvings in stone, ink on paper, have strongly resisted the evolutionary impulse".

Technological futurology occasionally transfers human qualities such as autonomy and rationality from people to machines. Here, in a similar manner, information is endowed with human attributes and believed as an entity with a certain independence from human control. This desire for a technology that liberates information from technology is not far from the search for a weapon to end all weapons of the world.

The desire to secede from history and positioned ourselves on a newly cleaned tabula rasa involves both looking into the past, in order to be able to reflect upon the future. Futurology does have a habit of announcing both death and birth prematurely. The forward thrust of predictions tends to insist we do not look back.

The problem with these predictions is that instead of dismissing the old, they actually damage more the concept of the new. Underestimating what replacement really involves and overselling what technology can currently achieve can be a combination that gives new technologies an unfortunately bathetic launch into a market that does not take into account the complexity of the social material of which these technologies are part. When constructing new technologies, dismissal and trivialization of the past can result not only in losing particular documents and artefacts, but also losing valuable cultural insights gained through previous technologies.  Information and technology should be considered as mutually constitutive and ultimately indissoluble.

Whether a book is published as a codex on paper, or on a website, or in some kind of eBook format, impacts not only the way of reading it, but also how much the reader enjoys the process, and how effectively the text communicates the author's intentions.

Print on paper and website versions operate in dissimilar manners. A website version is a series of individual web pages connected throughout by hyperlinks on a series of index pages connected to a homepage. Consequently, website versions are highly dynamic and generally interactive, while printed versions are static.

The multiplicity of ways in which printed books are read should be taken in consideration while evaluating differences between reading websites and traditional printed codices. For example, the reading process of a novel is generally unidirectional, in other words from beginning to end. On the other hand, the use of a reference book -such as a cookbook or an encyclopaedia- is typically nonlinear, since it depends on several aspects usually based on the manners in which these books are organized. When the form of the medium changes, its content and the way this one is communicated also changes. Therefore, the physical and the conceptual, mind and matter, sign and signified, should not be understood as isolated characters.

If books and their content (information) are interdependent, then, the book is clearly more than a conduit for ideas produced elsewhere, and consequently it is itself a means of production, a machine. This concept goes beyond the simple idea of a book producing the information it contains. Books are part of a social system that includes authors, readers, editorials, publishers, booksellers, libraries, and so forth.  The notion of the book as a machine allows the dissolution of the barrier between the book and new technologies raised by suppersessive advocates.  Indeed, the idea of the book as a "machine to think with" brings the book much closer to other information technologies.

Michel de Certeau and Richard Johnson warned how easy it can be to idealize information technology and demonize the book as if the two were not, indeed, both machines. De Certeau and Johnson hold that in attempting to understand cultural artifacts travelling a social circuit, it's essential to distinguish the different cardinal points of the system. To take one and ignore the others, or to contrast analyses made from two different points on the circuit, inevitably misrepresents the system as a whole and the role of the artifact within the latter.

Recurrently, arguments against the book, often characterize it not in terms of a whole system but from the point of authorial production alone. As a result, the book is portrayed as a malign influence, an authoritative power over passive audiences. On the contrary, information technology is often characterized in terms of the circulating text or of cultural consumption, but not of production. Therefore, information seems remarkably self-sufficient and free from the imprisoning characteristics that, by contrast, are ascribed to the book.

There are two possible future outcomes: either the book will continue to be the medium for reading, or its replacement will resemble what the book has always been. For more than 500 years, alterations to the book as an object have modified neither its function nor its grammar.

Even though the printed book is in itself its best version, there are still considerable factors to innovate in the design of the electronic book. Can the future bring an electronic reading device that will successfully emulate the best attributes of printed books? Will new forms of reading achieve the total supersession of printed books? Are we willing to leave behind are valuable book collections and instead carry with us an information storage and reading device? How can one not want to feel a physical book, to turn actual pages, especially when the book is an object of beauty, or an object from another time or place, replete with historical or even familiar meaning? Will the hinged book prove itself as enduring? The closed cover, turned pages, serial form, immutable text, distinctive formats, and the handy size offer a deep-rooted and resilient combination in the social fabric and continue to provide unrivalled signifying matter.