Tolstoy Vs. The Wire

By Jessie Roberts

W. Daniel Hillis tries to take books down a notch:

Yet, as much as I love books, I understand that my bibliophilia is not a virtue, but an indulgence. I associate books with insight and knowledge, but my respect is for ideas, not format. Shirky is right to call out the cargo-cult of literature. For many years books were the primary means by which important ideas were conveyed to us, we came to associate them with thoughtful insight. This association is out of date. As much as I liked War and Peace, I probably got more out of the The Wire. And why should that be surprising? More human effort can be put into a television series than a novel and more time is spent consuming it. If both are executed to their highest standards, with equal care, skill and insight, we might well expect less from the book.

Hmm, I don't follow. How does it call out the "cargo-cult of literature" to note that other media are enjoyable and useful? Snobbery is unappealing, period, whether it's accompanying a book or a TV show. But Hillis really loses me at "More human effort can be put into a TV series..." -- why should man hours devoted to a work's creation or consumption factor into our enjoyment of it? By that measure, "Ode to a Nightingale" becomes practically worthless if you buy that Keats wrote it in one sitting. I agree that dead-tree purists are missing out, but I don't see the logic here for why someone might expect to "get more out of" a superbly-executed TV series than a superbly-executed novel or poem.