I can think of two, maybe three times before when the technology of text has proven disruptive.
1. Gutenberg. The widespread, rapid and inexpensive printing of the Bible let people read it themselves, bypassing the middleman of the priest. Consequence: the Protestant Reformation.
2. Broadsides. The blogs of their day (the American Colonial period), broadsides provided cheap and subversive entertainment for the masses. They also fomented enough anti-Anglican rebellion to result in the Revolutionary War.
After the Rocky Mountain News shut down, I talked with some publisher and journalist friends.
They noticed when the World Wide Web started carrying news, then ads. Competition! they said. On the other hand, newspapers have been around for centuries. Surely they would survive!
Now, most of them think that traditional print newspapers, excepting perhaps small town editions, will be extinct in 5 years. (Small town rags will last longer because there's less competition for ads.)
Let me start at the hardest spot. Libraries, sometimes, throw books away. We really do.
How could we?! Don't librarians understand the value of the book?
And by book, we mean:
* Your college textbook. You didn't actually read it. The parts you did read, you marked up heavily with a yellow marker, and scores of obscure comments. But that was the year you also met a young woman who gave you a completely different idea of yourself. That's what makes that book valuable to you, so valuable that even though you're convinced that you can't keep it any more, surely it deserves a place at your local library!
* A book published 20 years ago, in a field where things change quickly. It wasn't that long ago that I strolled through a local high school library and found a book published in 1965. It was in the science section. This is an act of profound disservice to young minds.
* A bestseller! Of course, this is from 5 years ago, from an author that had only that one book, and it didn't really make much of an enduring impact.
A few weeks ago I gave a talk up in Golden. Later, a journalism student interviewed me. Was there still a place for the library, he wanted to know, in the age of the Internet?
I told him that I've been asked that by a lot of reporters over the years. But it has a particular poignancy to it now. Before this young man, the last person to ask me worked for the Rocky Mountain News. (The financially troubled Rocky, as surely everyone now knows, recently shut down operations after failure to find a buyer.)