In my class on periodicals we've spent the past two weeks reading all the scholarly articles on theory to give us a good background in the historical and social contexts of magazines. The most recent of these articles brings up something that as an English major, I always hesitated to talk about, fearing to sound juvenile for not talking about the deep meaning of the literature: the physical forms and material characteristics of what we read.
The paper, ink, font, pictures, page size, binding, cover art, etc. make up the aesthetic value of a book, magazine, or newspaper. But as we move further into the twenty-first century, we need to stop and think about the aesthetic value of digital texts. The internet has provided us with a multitude of ways to store and archive written works, which is wonderful to conserve our history as well as save paper. But what is the actual emotional and aesthetic experience of reading a newspaper, magazine, or even a novel on a computer screen?
Personally, I hate it. I tried to give sites like Dailylit.com a chance and read a novel in installments sent to my e-mail, but I couldn't even get through one. There's something about the physical experience of holding a book and turning its pages that I will never be able to live without. Due to the vast amount of literary material that is available these days, it makes a lot of sense for it to be stored in cyberspace, but we are creating entirely new dilemmas that only future generations will be able to sort out.
In the past, things have only made it into the canon if they were reprinted in more than one edition or magazine. With the permanency of the internet, anyone can self publish and have it preserved for an indefinite future. This is going to dramatically change the face of what we consider literature and the kinds of historical documents that will be available to our great-great-great-great grandchildren. Is this going to create an archaeologist's dream or a literary nightmare?