Daily Archives: 14 December 2005

Sacred Texts and Talismans in the Digital Age

Michael Hyatt, a religious publisher with a blog, is convinced e-books are the wave of the future, just as soon as the right very, very booklike reading device comes along.

The blogpost compares iPod vs. hardware platforms for distributing music, but the extension of this model to the distribution of books doesn’t seem quite parallel. Some of the comments to his post are pretty interesting, but I’d like to focus on the implications of sacred texts as talismans in the digital age.

Electronic editions seem best for periodicals and reference works, but not for novels, and not for bath or toilet reading. Religious publications seem to be expanding in both print and electronic media. A lot of people have bought Bible-concordance software packages in addition to the more talismanlike print edition. Concordance software is a powerful tool, especially for matching translations with originals, but it’s harder to make the transition to treating a CD or an e-book as a sacred talisman.

Two problems for e-Bibles:

1. “Do you swear, on this electronic device, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

2. When I was a kid, Baptist Sunday schools classes sometimes used to have “sword drills”–competitions to unsheathe our Bible “swords” and find the page on which a particular book, chapter, and verse was located before anyone else did. I don’t know how that would work if Bibles were handheld electronic devices. I suppose the competition could be to input the best combination of search terms to make the shortest possible list of search results to choose from.

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