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Some days the future appears so clear

Hope and Change

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(Nov, 2010) Some days the future appears so clear. Sure, this mud husk I drag about, this collection of a trillion or so atoms will stop housing me, scatter its most basic parts and Iíll go on to whatever is next. Thatís everyoneís future. A future I seldom consider, as there isnít much the physical me can do about it. As Iím mostly in the physical world however, it is that worldís future I often fantasize about. Today I caught a glimpse of a possibility that has me howling with laughter.

Public libraries are struggling to stay relevant in a era where nearly everything can be found on-line, or so an on-line news article informed me. Not that I needed to read the article. Just considering what the Emmitsburg library was 20 or so years ago and what it is today has me convinced the institution is in trouble. Add a few elected officials and much of the tax paying public thinking it isnít the Countyís obligation to fund the library system and the writing is on the wall.

During the times I visit the library I usually have the stacks to myself. The library may be busy, but the majority of users are at the libraryís computers or using the public wireless Internet access via the laptop computers they brought along (usually plugged into the buildingís electrical system rather than using their own battery power supply), or they may be in attendance of some gathering in the community room. Seldom do I have to make way for another book addict.

I foresee a day when I donít need to go to the library at all. Currently, when I log on to the libraryís website at home to search for a book I often find e-books that can be downloaded into my computer to be read as I please. When the borrowing time has passed, the e-book vanishes from my computer so I donít have to pay late fees. Pretty cool. Being a fan of audio books, I appreciate the library system stocking these conveniences; I can listen to several novels a month that Iíll never have time to read. I figure the day is near when Iíll be able to download the audio books, newspapers and magazines too! The system doesnít need to shelve paper versions for me! One can argue the e-books save space, time, money and trees. We all want to save the trees, donít we? We all want to save money where we can, donít we?

Why donít we insist the entire written collection be put on-line, or CD, or DVD? Look at the money, the trees and the energy (books are moved by fuel consuming vehicles every week from library to library throughout the county and across the state) that could be saved if everything were digitized! Ah, what a happy future the users have before them!

Yep, electronic books, digitization and computers are the obvious solutions to so many of the challenges facing the libraries of today. Heck, they are obviously the answers to our need to handle the massive accumulation of worldwide knowledge that continues to grow (exponentially?) each year! And access to all of it would depend on what? An affordable source of electricity to run the machines needed to retrieve and make understandable the information stored under the paperless systems.

Riiiiiiight. With our current government attempting to jam our highways and power plants with electric cars, while levying new taxes on the energy producing industries, I can just about see the day when Iíll have to choose between heating our house and driving to work, because we wonít be able to afford to do both. Not with the ever increasing cost of electricity eating away at our meager incomes. Forget having enough cash for nonessentials like CD/DVD players, e-books and computers let alone Internet access other than what is left of the library, which is likely to be considerably smaller and more crowded than it is now. Having all of human knowledge available at the push of a button doesnít mean much if you canít afford to push the button! Limiting access to information through controlling the power to access it is censorship.

The Chinese government and Google Inc have already made a deal to censor the Internet as it is experienced by the Peoples Republic. Our own government is working at establishing similar censorship and I donít doubt that other current, and soon to be, totalitarian dictatorships will be following suit. Information is power. Controlling power is what government is all about.

As electronic centralization of knowledge becomes commonplace the paper books become a threat to those seeking to control access. Book burning has a long history. The barbarians destroyed much of the accumulated knowledge of the Roman Empire. The Nazis and Communist book burners of the early/mid 20th century were more organized and selective of the books they burnt, as are those who seek to deny access to certain books today.

In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 (a book about a future Utopia where reading was a crime and firemen set fire to houses that contained illegal books.) He stated in an interview, decades later, that he hadnít tried to predict the future, but to alert us to its possibility so we could avoid it. Couple such a future with George Orwellís 1984 (an occurring attempt at Utopia, only a few decades later than the title) and it isnít so odd that I can see a bookless, ignorant, easily controlled population of government dependant sheep on the horizon.

In 1984, history was rewritten at the Ministry of Truthís whim to move the population in whatever direction the worldís leaders desired. Not unlike the current rewriting of various histories. Collect all of knowledge into a controllable system where it can be modified to suit the needs of government and you almost have Orwellís Utopia. Collecting and destroying paper books would be necessary (canít have a hardcopy contradicting the e-version of anything) so Bradburyís Utopia would fit right in with Orwellís.

What has me howling with laughter are those who say, "It canít happen here. Or now!"

Riiiight. Just like 200,000 Catholic Poles, 6,000,000 Jews, a few million Cambodians, 30 to 40 million Russians and the gods alone know how many Chinese dying during the establishment of various attempts at Utopias during my motherís lifetime said, "It canít happen."

I recently accessed a still available college lecture series on human history that has yet to be rewritten. It seems nothing much has changed in the sphere of human interactions from what was first written on mud tablets nearly 5,000 years ago between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. What would the ancient Mesopotamian rulers have given for our rulerís potential control of access to knowledge? Now thereís another joke Iím laughing at. Those 5,000 years old mud tablets are likely to survive our e-knowledge! Perhaps I should learn to read and write in cuneiform?

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.