Tim Bray’s high-tech monastic cell

Nicholas Carr has an interesting post entitled simply Clutter. The post begins by discussing Tim Bray’s vision of a sort of high-tech monastic cell and moves into an explanation of why electronic books are fundamentally different from paper books.

Tim Bray has gotten rid of his CD cases and is now talking about getting rid of his books. From Nicholas Carr’s blog post:

He [Tim Bray] has a sense that removing the “clutter” of his books, along with his other media artifacts, will turn his home into a secular version of a “monastic cell”: “I dream of a mostly-empty room, brilliantly lit, the outside visible from inside. The chief furnishings would be a few well-loved faces and voices because it’s about people not things.” He is quick to add, though, that it will be a monastic cell outfitted with the latest data-processing technologies. Networked computers will “bring the universe of words and sounds and pictures to hand on demand. But not get dusty or pile up in corners.”

(Tim Bray’s ideal of a secular monastery  made me think of musician John Michael Talbot, a real monk living in a real monastery. I heard someone describe Talbot’s living quarters as a sparse cell with a fantastic sound system.)

Carr is dubious that Bray can achieve his goal by digitizing his books. Paper books are more conducive to the serenity Bray desires.

The irony in Bray’s vision of a bookless monastic cell is that it was the printed book itself that brought the ethic of the monastery — the ethic of deep attentiveness, of contemplativeness, of singlemindedness — to the general public.

I find Tim Bray’s ideal attractive, but I would selectively digitize books. For example, I would be fine converting my copy of The Python Cookbook to digital form. But I cannot imagine reading Will Durant’s Story of Civilization from a screen.

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4 thoughts on “Tim Bray’s high-tech monastic cell

  1. Giuseppe Paleologo

    “why electronic books are fundamentally different from electronic books.”

    John, there’s a typo here.

  2. This reminded me a little of the story “The Machine Stops” by EM Forster, written in, weirdly, 1909.

  3. I find reading from a screen (LCD or CRT) tires my eyes a lot faster than reading from a book (or even a 600/1200 dpi laser printed page). Until we are able to achieve resolutions similar to our least capable printed pages, reading book length sections on a screen just won’t happen (at least for me.)

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