on legacy and burning

Dear Opa, On the shelf in Oma's apartment in Berlin sits a copy of 'Romanze in England', one of the two books you wrote. You passed away before I was

Dear Opa,

On the shelf in Oma's apartment in Berlin sits a copy of 'Romanze in England', one of the two books you wrote. You passed away before I was old enough to talk to you about it, I know it was banned by the Third Reich, so I'm not sure how many copies escaped the burnings. I just searched for a copy of it and found 3 more, one of them even made it to America (don't worry, my search took a lot less effort than you might imagine, i'll explain this to you later). 

I think what I'm trying to say is your work still exists, but it is rare, difficult to get hold of, and therefore somehow becomes so much more valuable to me through its scarcity. The copy that sits in Berlin is one that you yourself opened and touched with your own hands, and with pride, and I can hold it too with that knowledge.

Right now I myself am embarking on a project to create a book, and I want to tell you about it, but there's a few things I'm going to have to explain first. The way people read has changed a lot, authors still write books, tales are still told, histories are still recorded, but their distribution is much stranger.  In the later years of your life you would have been aware that computers existed, and these colossal machines were being put to use in businesses all over the world. Well they got smaller, and they kept getting smaller, and soon everyone had their own one, some of them sit on desks in place of typewriters, some of them are small enough to carry in our pockets.  What's really strange is that they're all connected to each other, and I don't mean connected by wires, radio technology also improved and all these tiny personal computers use it to communicate with each other. You might wonder what is being communicated, well that's something you would recognise, we write letters and send them instantly to each other, a little bit like a telegram, except that I could send it to many many people all over the world at the same time, I can take photographs and send them instantly the same way, I can even make films and share those too, it's like everyone can be their own television station. And all these things happen on screens, just like television screens, but thinner.   I can even search for things that are on other people's computers just by typing the words, that's how I found out there is a copy of your book in America, someone had written a message on their computer saying they were selling it, and I found that message while sitting here in Belgium.

Right now i'm typing this letter to you on a personal computer and I'm seeing the words appearing on a screen,  when I finish I might press a button and read a book on the same screen, the words of the book and the words of my email are both stored in this little device simply by using magnetism. Do you know what this means? I can store millions of words inside this little device,  i can store millions of whole books inside it, i just press a button to turn the page, i now carry entire libraries in my pocket on the train.  I could even put a copy of your book inside it, we call this digitizing. After I digitized your book I could make copies of it and I could send it to people all over the world, they could all talk to each other about it, they could share it with more people that I don't even know, and if they wanted they could also destroy their copy of it, but that wouldn't matter would it? Because there would be copies distributed everywhere, so would you mind if someone erased it from their collection?

I know you saw many books being destroyed and burnt, I wonder how this felt for you, did you pray someone had copies kept safe somewhere, did you cry at this act of cultural destruction, or were you emboldened by the idea that books still had enough power to make governments censor them? 

Things are even stranger now, because books (and also films, music, television shows) are all just bits of magentism, they are easy to share and copy, and now the people who are censoring and destroying them are the writers and publishers. The industries that make their money from these artworks are in a state of crisis, they don't want me to start giving away copies of music and books for free, because then they don't make any money, if I do it they can arrest me, they can fine me, and they can erase all the magnetic copies I own.  I'm sure you can see some of the dilemmas here, artists want to make money from selling their work, but if people can get it for free then how will they earn money to survive while they make more work?  The issues are very complicated and I'm over simplifiying them here, but I think you see the problems. 

I'm sure you'd expect that with all these new ways of reading and sharing the way we write would have changed to, just like the way you saw music change with the invention of recording, and acting and storytelling change with the invention of film. Well, funnily enough it hasn't changed much. All the books I'm reading on my computer would be recognisable to you as books (there's even a little animation of a page turning so it feels more like a physical book, I think they did that for you).

So this is where our project comes in, we're trying to do a couple of things, firstly we're trying to learn how to write a book for this digital world, and at the same time we want to make something which has all the qualities we like about a physical book, it's a tough challenge we've set ourselves. To make it happen we're doing a few things that might seem foolish to our peers, maybe they will make sense to you.

Firstly we're expecting people to use these portable computers to 'read' our book, but we're not using their global interconnectedness, we're going to make people travel to get the words. We're not expecting people to run to neighbouring countries like you did, but we want them to explore the city they live in.  We're going to digitize parts of a story and put them on computers hidden around the city, so you can't just sit at home at your desk and search for them like I searched for your book, and the journey you must take to get to and from these hidden locations will be part of the story itself.  We've all been using these portable computers for quite a while, but we rarely seem do much with the fact that they are 'portable' apart from make our lives more efficient. 

We're also going to make a real physical book, it's going to work like a translator for the 'digital' parts of our book, and it's going to be an object in it's own right, a physical thing that can't be accuratley digitized, so people will need both parts to complete the story.  Maybe one day people will seek out these physical copies, maybe oneday someone will even try to destroy them, or maybe one day someone will hold the same copy I touched when we made it, and maybe they'll like knowing that. 

I'm going to write some more diary entries (or blogs as people call them now), maybe they'll help you understand more about what we're trying to do.

with love

Ihr Enkelkind

duncan

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