In praise of the Gutenberg Man

Marshal McLuhan called him the ‘Gutenberg Man’, the kind that prefers books, newspapers, magazines to the digital world. This is not about the smell of ink or the romantic looks of a well filled book case. It is about the WAY you read something that is in your hands. The WAY you turn pages while you are browsing diagonally; the WAY you digest information when you read a well edited printed broadsheet, to use Timothy Garton Ash’s description. They say that the digital opportunity for our intellectual lives is far larger than the marginal loss (of, for instance, old magazines and newspapers that are no longer stored in libraries). They say that we have to adapt to the new world of fast information and forget slow analysis. The editor of the Guardian, C.P. Scott, once said that ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred.’ They now say that comment is free but that facts are (too) expensive. I hope I will not live to see the last newspaper disappear, the last news stand close shop. But if the signals are right, the death of the Gutenberg Man is approaching. Even imminent. Can we create a society in defense of the handheld book, the crispy daily and the in depth research magazine? Or do we just give up on printed matters and adapt? I think about this on the Gutenberg Platz in Vienna, where old things seem to remain and where there is hardly any room for innovation. In cases like the Gutenberg Man this feels good. Is an Austrian kind of inward look and general stand still the price to be paid for safe guarding print? I am not sure it is worth THAT much.
What worries me most today is who is going to inherit my books? Who is going to want them in one of those clean, square, book-free houses, with screens and terminals instead op piles of novels to be read and newspaper scraps…I am lucky if they don’t end up in the oven. Gutenberg burnt by today’s web surfers in name of progress. Or should I move to Vienna?

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