Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace

~by James J. O'Donnell

The summer before beginning my studies at the University of Michigan's School of Information, enrolled students received an e-mail suggesting we get a head start on our reading, since it was expected that there would be quite a bit. So, Avatars of the Word (which I think is a marvelous title) made it onto my summer reading list as was recommended.

While I find the subjects of the book extraordinarily interesting, the text is fairly erratic and requires wading through to really appreciate the author's arguments. O'Donnell investigates changing technology through the eyes of a classical studies historian. The book is still, somewhat surprisingly, relevant even for having been written in 1998.

The author focuses on how changing technology affects the ways information is preserved and passed on from person to person and generation to generation. Particularly interesting are his arguments that these various technologies affect how people interact with, think about, and approach information.

O'Donnell manages to pack quite a bit of information and history into this relatively small volume. Unfortunately, the text wanders from concept to concept without much linearity which makes a coherent reading more difficult. Regardless, some of his ideas are quite fascinating even if the reader must search for them.

(A companion website can be found at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/avatars/)

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