The myth of the new: Mass digitization, distant reading, and the future of the book

Paul Gooding, Melissa Terras, Claire Warwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


This article presents the theoretical background to a wider project that is attempting to increase our understanding of the impact and uses of large-scale digitization, being undertaken by the first author at University College London with the working title ‘What is the impact of large-scale digitization upon researchers and the information sector?’ It discusses the controversy surrounding the emergence of mass digitization: the creation and collection of huge resources containing millions of pages of textual cultural content. It demonstrates that the polarized nature of the literature about this technological development is far from unprecedented, and in fact can be traced through the theory of a number of varied fields: the debate surrounding mechanization and digital technologies, our understanding of the role of the sublime in modern representations of technology, the similarities between the sociology of city life and digital information overload, and the way in which innovations are diffused throughout society. It proposes that these theories explain why debates around technological innovation often become so hyperbolic, creating an almost mythological view of technological determination. It concludes that, as a result of the processes outlined in this theory, mass digitization has become stuck between two conflicting rhetorical movements, and that it is therefore necessary to begin working to increase our understanding of this technology and to move the debate onwards using evidence from the real world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629–639
Number of pages11
JournalLiterary and Linguistic Computing
Issue number4
Early online date13 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013

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