"Not So Fast."(books for and against Electronic communications)(Bibliography)

Article excerpt

"Not So Fast"

When Pushcart Press publisher Bill Henderson chose this motto for his Lead Pencil Society, which is dedicated to resisting automation in all its forms, he couldn't possibly have imagined what a deep nerve he and others like him would strike across the country. As various electronic nets make their inexorable way from cyberspace to our living rooms, the world is rapidly dividing into two camps: those who eagerly allow themselves to be wrapped in whatever net flutters near and those who attempt to resist. The five books below represent a kind of firing line on electronic communications. Are we entering a digital paradise, where our computers harmonize and empower us, or do those very same bits and bytes pose what Sven Birkerts considers "the prospect of the erasure of individual selfhood"?

Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Faber and Faber, 1995, $22.95 (0-571-19849-X).

Birkerts is a reader, not an information consumer. Listen: "Somewhere we have gotten ahold of the idea that the more all-embracing we can make our communications networks, the closer we will be to that partaking that we long for deep down. For change us as they will, our technologies have not yet eradicated that flame of a desire not merely to be in touch, but to be..., embraced, known and valued not abstractly but in presence. We seem to believe our instruments can get us there, but they can't."

Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital. Knopf, 1995, $23 (0-679-43919-6).

Reading Negroponte alongside Birkerts is to realize that we are living in a very divided world. They agree about the radical effect of technology on our lives, but that's where they stop agreeing: "Being digital is . . . almost genetic in its nature, in that each generation will become more digital than the preceding one. The control bits of that digital future are more than ever in the hands of the young. Nothing could make me happier." You probably won't be surprised to learn that, by his own admission, Negroponte doesn't like to read. …