The form of the book reflects its relationship to the reader. How people read the written word, and how books "work" depend largely on the text as a physical object. Some books are directed at one large group of simultaneous readers, such as the lombard gradual or computer listserves. Others, more diminutive and with smaller print, invite intimate perusal by individuals. But the reader's relationship to the book depends on more than just the physical size of the object. The design and arrangement of text, the presence of illustrations, the availability of foldouts and moving parts, all influence the manner in which the reader interacts with the words. Certainly the availability of the written word is similarly influential. Printing made books--and the information in them--more plentiful and cheaper than manuscripts; their accessibility contributed to the rise of humanism and the revolution in science.

The computer has dramatically changed the format and accessibility of text. Paper and ink are replaced by a lighted screen and microchips. Text is not fixed; it can be altered and rearranged at the touch of a key, raising questions about permanence, ownership, and the diffusion of information. The computer's capacity to provide endless links to related information transforms the very notion of how a book works. The discussion of text as an object, especially as one of physical beauty, has been inexorably altered. With a surge of electrons come new questions about design, representation, speed, and global simultaneity, but the familiar problems of censorship, security, copyright, and privacy remain part of the discussion.