TITLE: Magic Books AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 07, 2007 7:45 AM DESC: ----- BODY: Last Saturday morning, I opened a book at random, just to fill some time, and ended up writing a blog entry on electronic communities. It was as if the book were magic... I opened to a page, read a couple of sentences, and was launched on what seemed like the perfect path for that morning. That experience echoed one of the things Vonnegut himself has often said: there is something special about books. This is one reason that I don't worry about getting dumber by reading books, because for me books have always served up magic. I remember reading just that back in high school, in Richard Bach's Illusions:
I noticed something strange about the book. "The pages don't have numbers on them, Don." "No," he said. "You just open it and whatever you need most is there." "A magic book!"
These days, I often have just this experience on the web, as I read blogs and follow links off to unexpected places. An academic book or conference proceedings can do the same. Bach would have said, "But of course."
"No you can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven't you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?"
I do that sometimes, but I'm just as likely to catch a little magic when my mind is fallow, and I grab a paper of one of my many stacks for a lunch jaunt. Holding a particular problem in my mind sometimes puts too much pressure on whatever might happen. Indeed, this comes back to the theme of the article I wrote on Saturday morning. On one hand there are traditional media and traditional communities, and on the other are newfangled electronic media and electronic communities. The traditional experiences often seem to hold some special magic for us. But the magic is not in any particular technology; it is in the intersection between ideas out there and our inner lives. When I feel something special in the asynchronicity of a book's magic, and think that the predetermination of an RSS feed makes it less spontaneous, that just reflects my experience, maybe my lack of imagination. If I look back honestly, I know that I have stumbled across old papers and old blog posts and old web pages that served up magic to me in much the same way that books have done. And, like electronic communities, the digital world of information creates new possibilities for us. A book can be magic for me only if I have a copy handy. On the web, every article is just a click a way. That's a powerful new sort of magic. -----