Umberto Eco Massimo Valicchia/ZumaPress

The Virtual Imagination

Will books, through the power of computers and the internet, be transformed into boundless “hypertextual structures” in which the reader is also author?

MILAN – Will books, through the power of computers and the internet, be transformed into boundless “hypertextual structures” in which the reader is also author?

Today, two sorts of books exist: those to be read and those to be consulted. With books-to-be-read, you start at page 1, say, where the author tells you a crime has been committed. You follow until the end, when you discover who is guilty. End of book; end of reading experience. The same happens even if you read philosophy, say, Husserl. The author opens at the fist page, and follows a series of questions in order for you to see how he reaches his conclusions.

Encyclopedias, of course, are never meant to be read cover to cover. If I want to know whether it was possible that Napoleon met Kant, I pick up volumes K and N and discover that Napoleon was born in 1769 and died in 1821, and that Kant was born in 1724 and died in 1804. It is possible that the two met. To know precisely, I consult a biography of Kant. A biography of Napoleon, who met many people, might disregard a meeting with Kant; a biography of Kant would not.

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