Butter Archive #6: Burn The Books, Plug In The E-Readers

When I first thought about digital writing and reading my mind went to e-books – an obvious conversion from something physical to something digital. A few weeks ago, after reading Katherine Hayles chapter, I proclaimed to my partner that “We should only be using e-books.” This is, of course, an inflammatory statement (just like my title), but one that I couldn’t stop thinking about. After much consideration about what digital writing could afford us, I couldn’t think of any reason besides nostalgia and stubbornness as to why we’re still clenching onto physical books. (And believe me, with over 400 books, I’m extremely guilty of this myself.)

In my project, therefore, I hope to tackle this question: should we fully convert to e-books? I will investigate the effects of reading digitally (why do we retain less information when we read on a screen?), current arguments for or against e-books, what interesting projects have been created around harnessing the unique offerings of e-books, and what can be accomplished with e-books (the Harry Potter books were just released on iBooks with “enhanced content” … but what does that mean?). Most excitingly, I hope to attempt two big experiments with this project. Firstly, I will choose a few different things to read on an e-reader (eg/ a novel, a graphic novel) to test my experiences with it’s allowances. Secondly, I’m hoping to publish and share my work as an e-book itself, to interact directly with the medium and see if it affects what and how I write.

It is undoubtable that bookstores are having a tough time, but it is also true that people are reading more than they ever were before. I want to explore if e-readers are “the future of reading” as I think they’ve oftentimes been marketed, and if they are worthwhile if they are simply a slightly more portable version of physical books. I’ve not met many people who feel that e-books are an exciting medium – most seem to admit that they’re convenient, but I’ll stick with normal books, thank you very much. Is it, perhaps, because e-books have not been harnessing there potential (whatever that potential may be)? As David Birnbaum said in What Is XML and Why Should Humanists Care?, “… publishing something on the screen does not automatically move the researcher very far beyond what would be possible with paper publication.” I want to research this to find what people are doing with this medium and whether or not it can create something special and valuable.

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Works Cited:

Birnbaum, David J. “What is XML and why should humanists care?” dh.obdurodon.org.

            dh.obdurodon.org, 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

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3 thoughts on “Butter Archive #6: Burn The Books, Plug In The E-Readers

  1. This sounds so interesting and important! I love ebooks and physical books both, and I’m really excited to see what you do with this (especially about information retention!)

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  2. Hi Ariel,

    Excellent post.

    You have made a great connection between e-books and the Katherine Hayles reading. I 100% agree with your statement, “After much consideration about what digital writing could afford us, I couldn’t think of any reason besides nostalgia and stubbornness as to why we’re still clenching onto physical books.” It is evident that not all people in today’s society are willing to conform to the idea of using electronic devices, such as e-books. Some people feel that they cannot retain information as accurately if the information is provided digitally. Meanwhile, others feel that digital writing may not be as accurate or trustworthy compared to writing published in a book.

    To answer your question, if we should fully convert to e-books, I do not think all people will be comfortable converting to e-books. The main reason I find that people stray away from using e-books is that they must be charged in order for use. A book on the other hand, does not need to be charged for use, arguably, making it more reliable. However, some people may enjoy using an e-book over a physical book because an e-book provides one with light which allows one to read text in the dark. Whereas one reading a physical book, must always be near a lamp or natural light in order to see the text.

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  3. This is a great and really huge topic, Ariel. Hayles has a fairly recent very fine article on the affordances of e-reading that looks at the impact of links etc. If you don’t find it in your research, I’ll look for the title for you. I’d suggest that one thing you do is try to get quite precise, meaning finding sources that allow you to be precise about your claims. Are we reading more than ever before? What kinds of things are we reading more than ever before? Are you suggesting that you’ll put your project into a conventional e-book format such as epub? or you could use a more experimental interface such as Scalar or the Dynamic Table of Contexts Browser. You’ll need to focus your topic, as I’m sure you are realizing now that you’re diving into the research in the area. Hopefully doing some reading will help you with that. One possible approach is to choose to focus either on conventional ebooks or on experimental reading interfaces that are not trying to replicate the book experience. There”s a big difference between the two.

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