I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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Having just read Wendell Berry’s essay, I am ashamed to admit that not only do I know what hypertext is, I’ve used it. More than once. I will probably use it again. I have even recommended it to a friend.
My shame is compounded by the fact that I am a librarian. Not one of the old-fashioned, bun-wearing, book-toting librarians of yore. No, I am one of those professional librarians responsible for indoctrinating the innocent minds of faculty and students alike to the wonders of the electronic age. Worse still, I have worked as a consultant in this field. A consultant for the government, no less. Dare I continue?
There is only one thing I can say in my defense. I read books. Printed. On paper. I’ve read most of Wendell Berry’s. I started reading his books ten years ago when he spoke to my poetry class. I’ll read his latest one too. In fact, I’ll probably buy it.
Wendell Berry’s “The Joy of Sales Resistance” [February 1994] delighted the nontechnological me. The technological me sells computer equipment for a living (if you can call it living). I don’t believe that all salespersons are untrustworthy, but I do believe that selling technology is noncreative, boring, and frustrating. We laugh at the computer jocks and call them “propeller heads,” but without them we’d be broke.
I do enjoy using some modern machines. For instance, I love my coffee pot that starts brewing before I wake up in the morning. But like Berry, I draw the line at reading a book on a computer. To hold a book, admire the cover, and actively participate in the creativity of the author is one of my greatest pleasures, and I want no short cuts.
I agree with Berry that the popular assumption that reading is an ordeal is symptomatic of what is wrong with our society today. There is a severe lack of soulfulness in our personal and professional lives, educational system, and communities that no amount of technological expediency can cure.