Books and Bytes

Probing the rocky relationship between technology and literature

Voskuhl agrees that this tactile approach is vital for truly understanding the transformation of literature. Holding up a single dusty volume in her office, she says, “Imagine this book. When I pick it up, I can think about when the text came into being, who the author was hanging out with at the time, estimate how expensive it was, how many copies were printed, how widely it was circulated, who could afford it at the time, and what it meant to be reading a book at the time.”


Perhaps Feffer will not have to relinquish as much as he thought. The heated conversation about the digital age began, and continues on, because a certain deference to the printed book remains. “We still refer to our family computers as ‘desktops’ and view computer screens in vertical or landscape ‘page layout,’” Price says. Thus the language associated with the book as a physical entity lives on in our parlance, just as the lifestyle it inspired is still accessible through digital media. Even when the transition from book to screen has become pervasive, it seems readers and writers will still keep their favorites on a dusty bookshelf.

—Staff writer Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


CORRECTION: October 5, 2010

An earlier version of the Oct. 5 arts article "Books and Bytes" incorrectly stated that the "Why Books" conference at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study will occur from Oct. 26 to 27. In fact, the conference is taking place from Oct. 28 to 29.