Different eras, these changes suggest, don’t just produce different kinds of books. Each also generates new ways of treating books – more specifically, new assumptions about what aspects of these physical objects deserve readers’ attention. When my students notice how different an eighteenth-century sermon collection looks from a twentieth-century airport paperback, the difference between a laminated chemistry textbook and the electronic version on their laptop begins to look less unprecedented. In the other direction, though, they begin to see that electronic technologies are in fact creating something radically new. Digital tools may not be upending our reading practices any more drastically than changing forms of print did. What they are revolutionizing is our ideas about reading. In the process, they’re remaking the printed past.
– Leah Price, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (New York: Basic Books, 2019), p. 33.
Writing turned a spotlight on the high, dim Sierras of speech; writing was the visualization of acoustic space. It lit up the dark.
A good quill put an end to talk, abolished mystery, gave us enclosed space and towns, brought roads and armies and bureaucracies. It was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of CIVILIZATION began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind. The hand that filled a paper built a city.
The handwriting is on the celluloid walls of Hollywood; the Age of Writing has passed. We must invent a NEW METAPHOR, restructure our thoughts and feelings. The new media are not bridges between man and nature: they are nature.
The MECHANIZATION of writing mechanized the visual-acoustic metaphor on which civilization rests; it created the classroom and mass education, the modern press and telegraph. It was the original assembly-line. Gutenberg made all history available as classified data: the transportable book brought the world of the dead into the space of the gentleman’s library; the telegraph brought the entire world of the living to the workman’s breakfast table.
– Marshall McLuhan (designed by Harley Parker), Counterblast (London: Rapp & Whiting, 1969), pp. 14-15.