The “Internet as Library of Alexandria” meme has been on A Superfluous Man‘s mind recently, stoked by Nicholas Carr’s book and a number of recent articles on the future of libraries, bookstores, print, etc.:
- The New York Times, on the “Internet Archive,”
- Lapham’s Quarterly, on the future of the book business,
- MIT’s Technology Review, on “Culturomics and the Google Book Project,”
- The Nation, on “Upheaval at the New York Public Library,”
- A site dedicated to (amusing) scanning errors in the Google Books database,
- and so on.
A Superfluous Man was an early adopter of the Kindle but recently has been considering the possibility of serving another master, namely Google Books. (For those unfamiliar, a fine introduction to the fraught project is available here.) The endlessly fascinating copyright litigation surrounding Google’s quixotic quest to scan every book ever published has yet to be conclusively resolved, but surely the outlines of the future of books are coming into view. And the future looks strikingly like Borges’ Biblioteca de Babel.
An experiment: the next time that A Superfluous Man reviews a book that is in the public domain for purposes of copyright, the chosen edition chosen will be a digital simulacrum of the work as first experienced by the reading public. In honor of Google’s ongoing legal troubles, let us begin with Bleak House (published serially in 1852 through 1853, but available at the foregoing link in the 1854 edition).