inocybe blues

How to Argue for Something That You Don't Really Believe in Too Much

A couple of days ago I had a great time being in the York University Libraries Blog Vs. Book debate where, weirdly enough, I argued against the “Be It Resolved”, viz, against the notion that the blog should replace the book. Counterintuitive, maybe, and I admit that I had to really think about it before I could make a convincing argument. My side won, but listen, it was a totally stacked deck, see? A debate about the worthiness of books taking place in a library is going to attract the kind of audience that likes books. Not to mention the fact that my partner was A) really prepared and B) laid the nostalgia trip on heavy, pulling the proverbial Cat out of the Hat to argue the point that something about books, their very container and format, is a kind of magic. The other side made all the great arguments about speed of dissemination, accessibility, fluidity of commentary. In the end, where who won was determined by applause, they had a single, brave badass on their side and would have had one more but I would have felt super awkward banging my own hands together while sitting at the “BOOK” table.

Make no mistake, I understand the nostalgia/magic argument. I am of a Certain Age, and a great deal of you reading this right now are probably twelve, and so I remember in a way that maybe you don’t about wandering the stacks and finding stuff by serendipity. In 1995-ish, it was in a tiny weird cramped bookstore in Singapore’s Holland Village where I found Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, and who knows how much stuff I found just wandering the stacks of various libraries growing up. Depending on this nostalgia to move support for libraries works now but will have vanishing returns in the future.

So, the debate. I argued on the only grounds that I could; technological and ethical. I talked about scarcity – scarcity of access to tech and economic scarcity, I talked about the immutability of print. I talked about power (in this case, electrical power). I talked about obsolescence and how tech isn’t really replaced all that easily unless new technology completely obliterates the old. TV didn’t kill radio, the Internet didn’t kill TV. But radio probably did kill the telegraph. Disruptive technology makes everybody jostle for a new position, sure, but it rarely kills anything off.