And so, for now at least, Updike is right that the Internet takes us back to a pre-Gutenberg era. Until we start seeing major censorship crackdowns on Web publishing — rather than the threat of pervasive surveillance, which is certainly chilling — online publishing will never behave like the printing press. The printing press led to the privatization of reading, but the Web leads to its socialization.
So perhaps what Updike is getting at when he bemoans the rise of digital books is really the rise of an uncensored public space. He's not afraid of technology, but of the public itself. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who loves libraries and old bookstores.