In Sven Birkerts’ Gutenberg Elegies, the issue is raised that in a world advancing in technology, it is inevitable that people’s views on literature is going through a paradigm shift.  Reading and writing have been around for thousands of years and in a tiny slice of literature’s history, technology arguably changed the way that people view literature as a whole.  Birkerts is an advocate for the old way of literature which takes place on paper and that people can hold in their hands.  With replacing this once fundamental characteristic of literature with an electronic screen, he thinks that as readers, people lose part of literature’s history and identity.

Throughout his argument he moves toward condemning technologies such as computers, television, even phones and answering machines.  My favorite part of the reading is when he recalls a movie that he watched about Ireland in the early 1900’s and how it inspired him to try and experience what it must have felt like to live in that  time.  Although I think technology is a fantastic thing and has improved countless areas of people’s lives, I also see the value in a lifestyle that is simplistic in its nature. 

When neglecting his computer, telephone and television, Birkerts says that “The globe expands and at the same time our sense of silence deepens.  I am a firm believer that advancements in technology shrink the globe for its inhabitants.  From crossing the Atlantic ocean for the first time, to the invention of the airplane, to the internet, people and things that once seemed like they were in a another world  are now in our backyard.  I think that Birkerts is onto something bringing up the value of quiet life through being aware of your surroundings like, “coal smoke scent of spring air and the feel of rounded cobblestones under my shoes.”  Even though these experiences are valuable and can be rewarding, the current system through which we experience literature should not be condemned. 

I was skeptical of Birkerts in his dialogue on his daughter and the movie, Beauty and the Beast.  He remarks on the fact that this Disney movie is sweeping the country and people are buying all of its merchandise and giving it to their small children.  In questioning if this movie should be publicized and pushed to young children so hard, he admits that he takes part in buying his daughter merchandise and watching the movie with her numerous times including the show on ice.  I think that as Birkerts develops his argument, he tends to put on blinders that prevent him from seeing the artistic and literary value of the texts of our time.  Personally I think that The Beauty and the Beast is an engaging and meaningful film for many age groups with its attention to detail, musical compositions and themes.  The fact that it is a movie and is not experienced through words on paper should not diminish its value and meaning.

It is true that reading and writing have gone through huge changes in the past couple decades and because of this the way that people experience literature will not be the exact same as it was in the past.  With that said, the presentation of literature whether it is spoken, on paper, tablet, screen, or projection should not have an effect on the way it is absorbed by the audience.  Just because Birkerts’ class failed to be interested in Henry James should not lead one to believe that an entire generation is reading in a less meaningful way.  No matter what era someone is from, I believe literature requires a genuine desire by both the reader and writer to make a connection with the other in order for the literature itself to have a significant meaning.  As long as readers still desire to find value and significance in literature, even though the way we look at literature may change, the essence of literature should remain static.

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