January 3, 2012
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Unfixed

Nick Carr mourns the lost fixity of fixed type and worries about the consequences of its replacement by digital works that can be corrected and adapted. (It’s fitting that Carr is writing this elegy in the employ of Rupert Murdoch.)

Naturally, Carr doesn’t mention Henry James’s The Ambassadors, which was published with chapters in two different sequences. Or the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which were revised by the author and revised again. Or the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, which exist in all sorts of versions. Or Don Giovanni, which was rewritten because the Viennese singers disliked some arias from the Prague premier.

Print did not always provide fixity , and digital works are capable of providing better fixity than print. Any forger can insert the a passable title paper with the specious words “first edition,” and few readers will detect (and fewer care about) the imposture. If you care, though. a simple checksum can confirm that your digital copy is really the version it purports to be, and that it has not been altered.

The specter of a textbook that decides that, being in Texas, we should avoid discussing evolution is chilling, but the specter of a textbook that figures out that its reader intensely dislikes equations but does understand graphs is perhaps less daunting.