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You spoke the word of the wise
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-25 07:53

You spoke the word of the wise

Comment on "Fear not the unknown frontier" on Page 4, Nov 21-22, China Daily

Dear Editor,

In "Fear not the unknown frontier", you wrote "the advent of printing triggered no less panic and resistance in the Western world than Google Books have done today" among the monks who lived by copying ancient manuscripts. This is not exactly true.

Monks in Europe were commanded to copy ancient manuscripts; it was not their choice, and they didn't receive any wages. Instead, their living was provided for by the tributes which were extorted from feudal serfs and regularly delivered to monasteries and churches.

Those pious people, "who often destroyed invaluable ancient Latin and Greek texts of poetry and science, by effacing the original writing just to reuse it for narrating insipid biographies of Christian Saints", as Marx said, would have been most happy to know that a modern way of reproducing written texts had been invented, because they would thus be relieved from that monotonous job.

Besides, the sweeping diffusion of printing happened only in a number of German and Italian cities where the bourgeoisie thrived. On the contrary, poor monks lived in the countryside and didn't have the least awareness of the fast progress of new technologies until somebody told them to change their jobs and to engage in different activities corresponding to the new requirements of the changing times, such as personally propagating the "true faith" in foreign countries, say China.

So, by no means could they develop any "opposition" to a phenomenon completely out of the reach of their daily lives. Not to say "fierce opposition".

Your thesis is correct. Don't let "anger and fears cloud the judgments even before figuring out what exactly the trends are like".

You spoke the word of the wise: "Reflect, before rejecting emerging forces". Even for medieval monks, online reading would not have been the Devil. Whether it will be the future way of reading, it is difficult to assess with reasonable approximation.

Personally, I'd love to touch pages of smooth, high quality paper, but, who knows?

Let us wait and see.


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(China Daily 11/25/2009 page8)