tique” on which my wife and daughterrnwork —my last line of defense —alsornfailed, the result of a “hardware incompatibilit)”rnerror that cropped up for no apparentrnreason.rnIn about as much time as it takes to tellrnit, I went from having three functioningrncomputers to haing none. Suddenly, Irnwas in a state of professional paralysis, lexicographicrnlimbo, unable to completernwork that was due or to locate informationrnthat would allow me to do preliminaryrnpreparation by hand. I couldn’trneven send c-nrail to explain why I was delayed.rnI spent nearl}- three days in the companyrnof technicians or on the phone withrntechnical-support personnel and morernthan $400 for repairs, upgrades, and advice.rnI also endured hours of sleeplessrnworry over what might have been lost.rnUltimately, I was relieved to have a repairedrncomputer in niv school office andrnan upgraded personal machine for mvrnwork at home, and nry famiU- was alsornhappily back to the keyboard on their upgradedrnmachine.rnM’ level of confidence in technolog’,rnthough, had sunk, and I began to considerrnthe deeper implications of the role computersrnhave come to play in our lives —rnboth as facilitators of our work and containersrnof our professional achievement.rnVo paraphrase Winston Churchill, I,rnlike manv professional scholars and writers,rncame reluctantl) to the school ofrnhigh technology; but once there, I havernmade an attentive pupil. I initially resistedrnthe whole idea of computer-assistedrnwork. After all, I had written three books,rnseveral hundred articles, aird volumes ofrncorrespondence on nothing nrore sophisticatedrnthan an old IBM Keytronic h’pewriter.rnOne book was put through threerndrafts on a 1936 Model Roval. Whatrnneed had I for such nrarvclous gizmos asrnfloppy disks and word processors? I was arnword processor, educated and trained tornthe purpose.rnBut my resistance eventually brokerndown. My argument about having a “tactilernrelationship” with my txpewriterrnwas so vieiousK- scoffed at that I soonrnfound myself nodding in bewildermentrnas Those in the Know impatiently explainedrnthe differences between bytesrnand bits, RAM and ROM, and arguedrntire c|ualit’ of one brand of machine orrnprogram over anotlrer. At present, I findrnmyself the owner or caretaker of four machinesrn(including a laptop) that requirernmore nraintenance and attention thanrnmy much older automobile —or, for thatrnmatter, tiian anything else of mine, includingrnmy dog and children.rnMy situation is hardly unique. Memosrnannouncing everything from mandatoryrnfaculty meetings to major campusrne’ents are disseminated by e-mail andrnelectronic bulletin boards; major committeernmeetings are souretimes conductedrnin “chat rooms”; and in some places, Irnunderstand, candidates for academic positionsrnare invited to “online visits” ratherrnthan transported across countr}’ for faceto-rnface interviews.rnStudent papers, including drafts of thesesrnand dissertations, arc submitted via email,rnand the notion of submitting hardrncopy of an article or essa- to a journal isrnrapidly becoming passe. In the past sixrnmontlis, I have submitted and had publishedrnno fewer than half a dozen articlesrnand review s that I never saw in print untilrntiiev came back to me in the form of contributor’srncopies.rnSo far, major publishing houses havernheld the line against pureK’ electronic submissions,rnbut even this trend is changing.rnOnline publishing of significant works isrnrapidly on its wav. As soon as copxrightrnand restriction problems can be workedrnout—assuming that the’ can be workedrnout—c-texts w ill be as fcimiliar to us as anvrnbookshelf It’s quite possible that, withinrnthe next decade, the notion of aetualK” seeingrnthoughts, ideas, or scholarship printedrnon paper and bound in a book or journalrncould be as arcane as television antennasrnor full-serice gas stations.rnNot everxone thinks this is a step forward.rnMichael Gonnan. dean of libraiTrnservices at California State Unisersity,rnwrote a piece in 1994 (originalK publishedrnin Lihrar)’ Journal and then Chronicles)rnin which he argues tliat the ultimaternimpact of this mad rush toward thern”Electronic Librar'” has been poorK’ considered.rnHe suggests that scholars havernbecome “unwitting dupes” of “tcchno-rnandals” who would push us ink) totalrnelectronic reliance. His concern is thatrnthe librar}’ and reading skills of an entirerngeneration may be so utterly replaced byrnthe virtual skills required to operate a conrputerrnthat they may not be recoverable.rnMy week of electronic disasters gavernme pause to consider all of this in arnbrighter and more natural light than diatrnprovided by mv high-tech monitors. I,rntoo, began to wonder if we are not courtingrnthe enormous risk of losing eer’-rnthing we know, everything we hae donernor aecomplished —not merely as a generationrnor as a society, but as a civilization.rnI’m not talking so much about a generalrn”glitch” based on widespread programrnerrors that can be corrected, or aboutrnviruses, or about the planned obsolescencernof both machines and programsrnthat renders “cutting edge” technologrncornparatiel’ useless in a matter ofrnmonths. ind w bile I agree with Dr. Gormanrntiiat there are aesthetic and philosophicalrnreasons for not replacing booksrnand periodicals with digitized versions,rnI’m not addressing that question, either.rnWhat concerns me is our utter reliancernon —and faitii in — a system of data storage,rnproduction, retrieval, and restorationrnthat depends upon one of the most Milnerablernand dcpletable commodities in ourrn”modern world of technolog”: electricitv.rnWe arc completelv surrounded brnelectrified gadgetr’, and we have becomerndependent upon it. From the air that circulatesrninside our hermetically scaled officesrnand windowless classrooms to thernkeeping of time and records, we rel- onrnelectricity to perform our work and torngive our professional lix’cs some semblancernof order.rnBut what happens if we lose powernotrntemporarily, not just for a few days orrnweeks, but permanently? A4iat happensrnthen to our “store of knowledge”?rnKver’thing human beings know^, havernlearned, discovered, speeidated about,rnhoped for, and feared reposes in printedrnmatter. For more than a full millennium,rnthese materials have been methodicalKrncollected, copied, then printed andrnreprinted and archived in hundreds ofrnthousands of libniries, botii public and pn-rnate, around the world. If the technologicalrnrevolution is carried out to its ultimaternend and these libraries fall behind in theirrnarchival diligence —indeed, if the’ arernphased out of existence —what happens ifrnsornedav there is no electricitv?rnMany universities, including my own,rnhae suspended sonre of their libraries’rn”hard cop” subscriptions to scholarK’rnjournals in faor of tiie much less expensivernmethod of aeqiriring them via anrnelectronic scrice provider. Where Irnwork, onl a fev publications are presentlyrninvolved, but it’s possible that, within arnfew years, all academic periodicals mayrnbe transformed from hard copy to electronicrnform. .A, old, archived issues arernelectronicalU’ scanned, librarv stacks ofrnperiodicals might be eliminated as v’ell.rnIf this spreads to book publication —rnand indications arc that it w ill, rapidh—rnthe library as we know it may become arn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn