Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Scholarship by the Photocopier

Like many other students, I've accumulated mounds of photocopies over the years. Photocopies of articles, of sections of books, and of entire books. The only reason that my filing cabinet isn't bursting with photocopies is that every once in a while I move a ream of photocopies from the filing cabinet to the blank-on-one-side paper pile for printing drafts.

This is why I was very pleased to come across the following statement by Umberto Eco, as he muses on the practice of photocopying expensive academic books:

"Moreover, the very act of photocopying a book tends to make me feel virtuous and up-to-date in my scholarship: I have the text, and afterwards I no longer feel the need to read it. Today scholars are accumulating enormous stocks of xeroxed material that they will never read. Ironically, the technology of photocopying makes it easier to have books, not easier to read them. Thus billions of trees are killed for the sake of unread photocopies."

Umberto Eco, "The Future of Literacy", in Apocalypse Postponed, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, and London, British Film Institute, 1994, p.69.

To this, I'll add the newer practice of printing articles from online journals. I print, and then I don't read. Although these two steps are separated by the best intention to read, that intention is swamped by the volume of printouts and photocopies.

The answer, of course, is to read instead of photocopying.


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