The Printed Word in Peril: The age of Homo virtualis is upon us

A thoughtful slow read. The author, who came of age in a print world, reflects on the cultural legacy of digital literacy.

Photograph by Ellen Cantor from her Prior Pleasures series © The artist. Courtesy dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, California (Harper's)Who, I thought, besides a multidisciplinary team in search of research funding, could possibly imagine that a digital account of the impact of reading digital print on human cognition would be effective? For such an account rests on the supremacy of the very thing it seeks to counteract, which can be summarized as a view of the human mind/brain that is itself computational in form. Whereas for literature to be adequately defended, its champions must care, quixotically, not at all for the verdict of history, while uttering necessary and highly inconvenient truths—at least for the so-called ­FANG corporations: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and of course Google, whose own stated ambition to digitize all the world’s printed books constitutes a de facto annihilation of the entire Gutenberg era. –Will Self, Harper’s magazine