One of the most gripping stories about the end of cyberspace involved the overthrow of books, and more generally of print culture, by the Internet and e-books. Depending on what side you were on, this was either a technological inevitability, or a sign of the end of all things Great and Good.
There are lots of ways you can measure how wrongs these predictions turned out to be— the book industry has certainly had its share of structural adjustments, and some high-profile closures of independent bookstores— but one suggestive one is John Miller’s study of America’s most literate cities.
The thing that grabs my attention is that Seattle and San Francisco, two of the centers of software and new media in the United States, rank among the top 10 most literate cities in America. They’re also in the top 10 cities for magazine publishers. Finally, they rank #2 and #1, respectively, in per capita concentration of bookstores. Of course, both cities have a long tradition of serious literary endeavors, strengthened by the presence of large universities and student populations, and a (now almost-defunct) combination of cultural richness and relatively low cost of living that attracted all kinds of interesting countercultural types (a phenomenon dissected in John Markoff’s really great book, What the Dormouse Said). So it’s not entirely surprising that there would be a correlation between high literary ranking and tech concentration; arguably, the former is an (at least indirect) attractor for the latter.
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