When Donald Knuth released Metafont, a computer program for creating digital fonts, he legendarily said “This is not for Times Roman.” The example font in the release was his own font, Computer Modern.
Knuth’s caution was not a legalistic one. He was simply reminding us that technology determines. Beautiful fonts in wood are different than beautiful fonts in lead. You can’t faithfully replicate Times Roman in wood any more than you can in Metafont. With Computer Modern Knuth was inviting us to look for the fonts that were beautiful in bits.
When a new technology comes along we typically do old things the new way. Indeed, one of the chestnut selling points of a new technology is that it does old things better so the marketing sirens beckon us down this path. Only slowly and after a while will the things that can only be done with the new technology emerge. This is the natural grain of the new technology, what it wants to do, what it determines. Those with only silver threads left recall that computers were for computing mathematical tables and storing recipes.
“[Manuscriptlink] will reunite digital surrogates of dismembered medieval manuscript leaves into virtual codices, thereby restoring hundreds—if not thousands—of manuscripts lost through the dispersal of individual manuscript pages.”
Electronic books give way to distributed books; this page comes from a digital archive Peru, the next from a library server in Estonia, the third from a mobile phone in the apartment downstairs. Catalogers and bibliographers take note.