Paul Levinson’s Keynote Address at Baylor University Libraries’ 2014 Symposium, 50 Years After McLuhan

03Feb15

 Dr. Paul Levinson

Published on Feb 3, 2015

I gave the Keynote Address: “The Medium of the Book, 50 Years after Understanding Media,” at Baylor Libraries 2014 Symposium, 50 Years after McLuhan, Baylor University, Waco, TX, September 25, 2014.

Abstract: A half century after the publication of McLuhan’s Understanding Media seems like a good time to examine the recent evolution of the book itself as a medium. In Understanding Media, McLuhan quotes the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine’s circa 1830 observation that “the book arrives too late”. Today, in a revolution as important as the introduction of Gutenberg’s press, books can arrive instantly anywhere in the world, via Kindles and other ebooks. But the most significant part of this development may pertain not to readers but authors, who can now can publish books without a publisher and within an hour or less after the book has been written. The advantages and disadvantages of this bypassing of the traditional gatekeeper for authors and the world at large will be explored — they are mostly advantages — as well as the decline of gatekeeping in other media. Current conflicts, such as the dispute between Amazon and the traditional publisher Hachette will be examined. Connections between the evolution of the book and other facets of writing on the Web will be traced, including the capacity of readers to communicate directly and easily with authors, in modes akin to the “intelligent writing” that Socrates yearned for in the Phaedrus.

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