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The Curation of Obscurity (Peter Brantley)

Peter Brantley is the Director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit library. He was previously the Director of the Digital Library Federation, a non-profit association of research and national libraries.  He has worked in senior information technology management roles at the University of California; the New York University Libraries and Press; Rapt, a startup firm focusing on advertising optimization, acquired by Microsoft; and the mass market division of Random House. You can find Peter on Twitter at: @naypinya.

The problem with reading, when you are trying to think about books, is that you wind up abstracting the act of reading and what is read–the cognition, the understanding of character, story, or explication, and the dreamworld of immersion. This does horrible things for our comprehension.

As we encounter the book’s future, we also face the challenge of not knowing the true state of the thing it is we want to talk about. To be droll, it has not changed but is in the act of changing, and may yet soon be the thing it will become while preserving certain aspects of what it is. It is as if Schrodinger’s Cat is made real; the book exists in a superposition of forms, paper and virtual; yet when we pause to consider it, we must perceive it in the light of one, casting only a vague and translucent shadow on the other, lest it appear as an enigmatic muddle.

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