The digitization of books is an immense blessing for the exchange and diffusion of knowledge, enabling access in even the most remote locations. Yet this new technology has awakened perils as dangerous as those that reduced libraries to ashes in ancient Alexandria and modern Nazi Germany. The very force that makes it possible for books to reach a global audience also has the power to hold them hostage and even destroy their integrity in a manner that is unprecedented. Books on Fire author Lucien Polastron points out that the dematerialization of knowledge raises new legal challenges about the quality and authenticity of information. Attempts to create a virtual library are changing the very nature of reading, which has been marked by the act of physically holding and moving forward through an author's work rather than viewing a series of sound bite length snippets. The transfer of the traditional paper book into a searchable entity on the computer represents a revolution even more dramatic than the one triggered by Gutenberg's printing press. This revolution is akin to the replacement of the scroll by the codex, which likewise changed the way humans could receive information and structure their thoughts. Yet despite its broad easy access, the profiteers of this new commercial domain may render the very idea of "free" reading obsolete. Polastron poses questions others are ignoring in a headlong rush to embrace what is still a very ambiguous future.
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