Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, April 23, 2010

dubious assertions, thoughtful reflections

Craig Mod says:

Previously, reading was an act of solitude by design, with most residue of the process locked in a book's physicality. This is no longer true.

Why do people say things like this? (I know, I always ask that question. But really: Why do people say things like this?) The overwhelming majority of readers read paper codexes. Maybe someday they won't, but today they do, and simply asserting that Everything Is Different Now doesn't change any of the facts. Sigh.

Fortunately, Mod goes on to say many other things that are interesting and valuable, and his essay has a number of illuminating links. He concludes,

I'm excited about digital books for a number of reasons. Their proclivity towards multimedia is not one of them. I’m excited about digital books for their meta potential. The illumination of, in the words of Richard Nash, that commonality between two people who have read the same book.

We need to step back for a moment and stop acting purely on style. There is no style store. Retire those half-realized metaphors while they're still young.

Instead, let’s focus on the fundamentals. Improve e-reader typography and page balance. Integrate well considered networked (social) features. Respect the rights of the reader and then — only then — will we be in a position to further explore our new canvas.

Very much worth a read.

2 comments:

  • It probably doesn't make sense in the context of his essay which is (I gather, since I haven't read it yet) talking about codexes and e-readers. But if you look at reading in general, and think about how much reading gets done on blogs and websites today, it seems to make a certain kind of sense. Even if you're reading the New York Times, in the privacy of your home, on your desktop, you can still see the comments below the article and that itself, in a way, makes the reading experience less private.

    This is certainly a creative interpretation and certainly not what Mod intends by it at all, but I think it's reasonably true. Or if not true, at least reasonable.

  • Why say that? Because he thinks it means something, which it doesn't. Its obvious intention as an introductory and framing statement doesn't mean it functions that way. I don't care to speculate as to the ratios, but there are plenty of early adopters singing the praises of e-readers, others (like me) who won't touch them, and yet others proclaiming that everything old is new again (i.e., books are back in vogue). Everyone has a perspective, and they're all true in part, untrue in part.

    For my money, the larger truth about reading, is that the behavior is becoming more densely focused within a literary elite reading from all forms of media while the masses continue to shift to video. Like the partially known fallout from the introduction of the TV, we don't yet know the full effect of the democratization and ubiquity of video. However, it's already clear that the typographic mind is taking a big hit.

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