• Daniele Gennara

A new book. Bringing history and technology together ​

As a dear professor of mine said last summer, "Devil, Satan, belzebub, call it as you want; in every age Evil appears to the world in a different way: currently it is computer science".

This passion sounded on a summer afternoon, in the shade of the mountain pines, condemning the so-called ebook readers.

I still have in my head the echo of those apocalyptic words, amplified by every time I turn on the reader I have in my backpack. Today, after two months of use and with a bit of collaborationist embarrassment, I think "at the end they are not so wicked".

At first it's strange to read differently. After a life spent flipping books suddenly there are no physical pages and not even the unit 'page', there is no longer the object that occupies libraries. You only buy a license - the service offered by a company, you clumsly highlight with a touch not with the speed of a pencil and when the battery ends you stop reading. All the devilish things.

The habit has made me accustomed to all this, and has done more: now I appreciate instant dictionary tools, free extracts, immediate purchase features and, more simply, the portability.

Computer science. Hell. Future.

In Other inquisitions, the work of the hypertextual forerunner author called Borges, there is a chapter entitled On the cult of books. In the introduction Borges mentions how some of the most illustrious authors of antiquity testified against the value of the written word, against the book as the sovereign object of culture, remaining in favour of the spoken word.

I quote the opponents, without verifying the truth but with full confidence in the Borges' summary: Pythagoras, Plato, Clement of Alexandria, Christ.

Today it seems inconceivable that an object of such sacred fame as the book, which has produced a human category widespread in every corner of the earth and which responds to the name of 'the bibliophiles', of which Borges himself was one of the most convinced representatives, suffered a heavy discriminatory attack during his first years of life. Yet so it was.

The author lists the criticisms accused against the book: it is a dead object because it does not answer the questions asked, it cannot decide by whom to be read while a teacher chooses his disciple, a book can be misunderstood by an evil or stupid reader while the oracle is expressed in terms appropriate to the person in front of him.

If the opponents still today, from their graves, did not appreciate the written word, my hypothesis is that peace, if it is not close, is not impossible neither.

Let me explain: if modern computer science is an immature science whose development today hasn't reach a power and maturity that only in next decades, or centuries, will achieve, then the ebook reader I have in my hands is only a poor prototype of its glorious future.

Tomorrow's new book will bring together past and future, spoken and written words.

It will adapt its content in relation to the person in front of it, making sure that, changing words, the message will remain intact.

It can be a book open to everyone or, if the author had the reason, it cannot be consulted. It will be composed of many answers that the author can apply to the text, and only when a reader asks a question it will process the related answer.

In short, it will be a new, deep, multiform and multi-layered object.

Will it continue to resemble an infernal artifact or will it bring man closer to the divine, as immortality will do?

My bet is in favour of a peace that has been awaited for too long: history will forgive technology, technology will learn from history.