Into the Electric Millennium by Sven Birkerts

Intention: The essay’s intention is to make readers aware of the significant change that had begun to occur as electronic technologies developed. Birkerts uses rhetorical devices to convey his feelings toward this development, which takes our society into a new, unknown electronic culture. Birkerts wants to inform his audience of the major turning point society has reached in which the culture of printed word ends and digital formats replace them.

Logos: Birkerts‘ logos supports the important role words have played by citing examples throughout changes in history. His first example comes from the beginning of his essay after he presents his concern for the electronic development stating, “This is not, of course, the first shift in our long history. In Greece, in the time of Socrates, several centuries after Homer, the dominant oral culture was overtaken by the writing technology.” By citing examples, such as this, Birkerts uses historical context to justify his fear of the changes the electronic millennium will bring to humanity.

Tone: The tone set at the beginning of the essay during Birkerts’ encounter with the English professor implies that he was not very interested, at the time, in computers. His tone is significant in the fourth paragraph because it references his views when he first experienced the change in print culture. Birkerts uses the word “ex-professor” to emphasize the change in culture- that even an English professor was leaving behind printed word. During their conversation, Birkerts asks the question, “And the books?”, which is the kind of question an audience member may ask. In this moment, Birkerts represents the audience, as they are beginning to experience this rapid change. Overall, the tone of the essay is informal because he’s trying to build a personal relationship with the audience. As he describes his own experience with the electronic millennium, Birkerts is representing everyone who feared this rising culture.

Quote: A quote that struck me in the essay was, “The truth is that we are living through a period overlap; one way of being is pushed thwart another.” In this quote, Birkerts summarizes the conflicting transition from a culture of printed word to an electronic format. Cultural changes take time, as they have throughout humanity’s evolution from drawings, to written formats, to print and now, digital. The “overlap” is the period  where the old and new cultures are moving against each other, waging for a place in society. Moreover, Birkerts’ essay relays his concerns experiencing this overlap period, while desperately trying to hold on to the physical perspective of books.

–Chloe Klusman

By opening his essay with an anecdote, Birkerts is able to draw the audience in through a manor that is more easy to relate to and get sucked in to. He tells of a time when he visits a college professor and how he is giving up all his once-beloved books in exchange for the new electronic system. By using this particular story and then giving insight on how it makes him feel, Birkerts is able to begin pulling the reader to side with his opinion that people are starting to become too dependent on technology.

When it comes to Birkerts credibility on this subject, Birkerts’ is very much biased. As a literary critic and writing teacher, it makes sense that he would side against technology, instead of for it. However, if he were to argue for the side that goes against what you would expect–i.e, he were to support the new millennium–then it would make his argument much more powerful. So, instead of of adding to his ethos, Birkerts’ background only degrades it.

Pathos: By constantly referring back to the past and the sentiment of physical books, he boosts his pathos and makes the audience even more inclined to agree with his argument. For years and years we have kept books as a way to have a physical representation of the passage of time, on the subject of passed time. Yes, in an electronic medium, information can last forever, but we therefore lose the finite connection that a book has to offer.

–Skyler Houser



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