Convenience Reading

The Rhetoric of Information

Predictions of new media technologies supplanting paper books belong to a legacy that runs well over a hundred years deep. As early as the nineteenth century, Paul Otlet suggested microfilm would displace paper books in his essay, “On a New Form of the Book.” Other prominent thinkers such as H.G. Wells and Vannevar Bush made similar suggestions in the twentieth century, imagining microfilm as a technology that would allow readers to hold entire libraries in their personal desks. With the advent of digital technologies, e-books have far surpassed the storage and retrieval capabilities that those early visionaries thought possible. Forget the desk—pocket-sized mobile devices now connect to an online network of information that far exceeds any print collection in terms of sheer volume.

And yet, the book and its custodians—publishers, libraries, book worms—continue doing their work in the twenty-first century. Some argue that we’re seeing the last vestiges of a…

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