Words in the public domain: an example of ancient Roman electoral grafitti from Pompeii
There are so many ways to read nowadays, so many books, so easy to buy them, that one can keep on reading regardless of where they are or what they do. I know people who listen to audio books even while they work. Some listen to a book being read while on a run, or during a gym workout. Not to mention all Kindle users thanks to whom books have reached the most unusual places, saunas, pools, gliders, and, in the case of the Oasis 2, even underwater. Thanks to digital technology, the e-book and the audiobook, there’s no place or context where reading can’t be done. A woman reportedly was reading a Kindle book while she was giving birth.
But the innovation and accessibility of digital technology is not ultimately to credit for the ubiquity of reading and of the book. After all, more pens doesn’t make more writers, and better nibs doesn’t improve one’s handwriting.
What digital technology did was to capitalise on an existing state of hyperliteracy in the West and to bring it to a point of consummation. The structuralists and post-structuralists of the 60s and 70s were already warning that we live in a logocentric age, and they didn’t necessarily think of logos as a spoken word, like the ancients did. But nearly everyone recognised the centrality of the written word, of text. With print and advertising, we have for a long time been surrounded by letters and words. Long before the advent of the Internet, we had been covering ourselves with text. Our bodies weren’t spared either. Just look around. There are words on mugs, words on apparel, framed words and quotes hanging from walls. Text, not love, is all around. And where are we in all this? We, the readers, we the devourers of printed words, the hosts and carriers of their meaning and meaninglessness, we the Kindle holders, the Audible subscribers, the bookshop visitors, the graffiti painters, we the words.