This business of “sensory input” is another old McLuhan theme. He once predicted that the advent of colour television would lead to an increased appetite for spicy foods. Call him a nutcase, but we got our colour television and then suddenly we were all eating Szechuan.
Canadian columnist Philip Marchand’s report on literal-media-observer N. Katherine Hayles’ presentation at a recent Media Ecology Association conference underscores an observation I’ve been selectively making lately: web-centric media theorists are the biggest book lovers around. “Book fetishists” might be a better term, as the book-love I mean has more to do with adoration of the book object than an active interest in author brawls real or staged. After a full day dealing with the unstable, “nervous information” of the computer screen, books are reassuring for their solid physical presence, their smell and their spatial dimension. The words in them are older than the ones we read on screens. Their unique qualities become apparent when contrasted with the digital. Who understands this better than the rigorously trained media theorist, carefully attuned to subtle deviations in sensory input? No one.