It’s easy to think of books as existing outside time and space, on the unnameable plane in consciousness unlocked by the act of reading.
If reading escapes the constraints of time (who hasn’t at least once in their life wondered in amazement at how hours spent reading felt like mere minutes?) – writing has always had to meet the demands of time and space.
The history of writing is a sequence of negotiations between the written word and the imperatives of embodiment, which in turn answers to the requirements of time-space.
Under the aspect of time, writing has developed ways of accomplishing more more quickly. It’s what may be called the logochronic challenge. Under the aspect of space, writing – and the history of books as a whole – has sought ways to fit more in and with less.
Without subscribing to a linear view of the history of writing, it may be said that the farther one looks back in time, the more writing appears slow and uneconomical. A brief examination of medieval script reveals that slow-moving hands covering low-word-per-line-rate pages evolve, nearly imperceptibly, into fast styles of writing made up of letters and words covering the same page size in greater numbers. Writing gets faster, letters get slimmer, and more text can fill the same space. It’s an economic evolution comparable to the invention of transistors and nanotechnology.
It takes time to write and it takes time to read, not to mention the space that text requires in order to exist. This last point has been lost from view, as books become less rare, and thus less valuable, and texts quit the real physicality of books to settle for the illusory physicality of digital media. Time, as always, will tell whether we’ll ever have to address the problem of logochronics again.