What would Johannes Speyer have made of digital technology? The question lurches around my head like a drowsy summer fly. I could wait for it to die, as all flies do eventually, safe in the knowledge that another, quite indistinguishable fly would soon take its place. Or I could get up, old copy of a literary journal in hand, and do something about it.
What would Johannes Speyer have made of digital technology? Here is one answer, at least. Taking it for granted that digital technology will change the way we consume books, leading us gently (or not so gently) to a future in which the book as object will no longer exist as a concept, let along a thing, one can only conclude that Speyer would not be overly disappointed. So long as the words still exist, he would argue, what is the problem?
One advantage of reading a book online, or on an e-reading device, is that one is not constantly besieged by a book’s cover. For many people, this comes as a sadness. Book covers are fascinating things: sometimes they lead us into a book itself; just as often they put us off. The lack of a book cover allows the words to speak for themselves. The reader, in turn, is expected to work a little harder. This, Speyer would argue, is exactly how it should be. A book doesn’t need a cover to exist. A book requires words alone.