Sunday, January 14, 2007

Everything good for you is not all online

Re: books, the future of the book, etc. …
** My wife and I recently examined an e-book, made by SONY. If this is what technology offers as competition, the book has little to fear. Not many lines of text, not many words per line. Turning the “page” is not intuitive, although a reader could get used to it. Folks who didn’t know the comfort of holding and reading an actual book might find the SONY suitable, even a delight. But for those like me who cherish and are even obsessive about books, it will never do. … On the other hand, it has advantages – you can store lots of reading material in a single e-book, and it makes very low power demands. … And we know, down the line, the technology will improve.
** I love the smell of old paperbacks. I have books that have been with me for decades. Their pages smell of slow decay, but I’m happy with that. The memory of reading them remains, vivid enough that I can recall where I was when I read them. But this is subjective and personal and will not save the book unless something like it is felt widely. The only ones who feel like this are book lovers, a minority.
** About 4 or 5 years ago, the National Endowment for the Humanities (or an org like it) issued a study, saying people over the last few decades had come to read less. Seemed like a definitive study. I tried but couldn’t find it, or I'd link to it here. ... This seems to be contradicted by what Cory Doctorow says (in the Forbes article), that people’s reading habits are actually robust, thanks to the Web. I have my doubts about that but nothing to back those doubts up. … I’d like to see an in-depth study that examines the following:
a) the types of books people are reading, the genres. Yeah, they’re reading tech manuals, but what else? … In the bookstores the front-of-the-store shelves & tables seem full of current events, history, politics, self-help and celebrity bios. Do people read fiction and poetry and philosophy (which, to be honest, I read little of myself these days)? The NEH said less & less of that stuff.
b) whether people read cover to cover or read a chapter or two and then let it drop (I’ve done that too often recently). I’d like to know how many people read entire books, and how many books in a year, say.
c) the link between reading habits online and off. Does your book reading rise as you read more online, or what?

Does anyone know of such a study?

** Maybe online publishing is the way to go. But what kind of readership can you expect? It’s a niche world after all. … I have a friend who’s written four highly unformulaic novels and can’t get any published (most of the publishing houses are nothing if not conventional). I’m going to suggest he think about online publishing. Hope he remains my friend.
** Have you ever read a book while walking? Obviously it has to be an easy kind of strolling, in a safe place, and there can’t be lots of people around or you crash into them. I’ve tried this and like it a lot. My mind is more engaged if my body is also working.

Re: New Media Writing
** While searching for that NEH study on reading, I found A Conversation with Steven Johnson. He's the author of EVERYTHING BAD IS GOOD FOR YOU, "a defense of today's computer culture,” according to the site. The interview is fairly long, but it’s spot-on with regard to new media and with something Adam said the other night in class (I’m paraphrasing), that he wants to see the Web become a more “meditative” space, with postings as personal as, say, a good novel. ... Steven Johnson says: “I remember joining Echo [in about 1991] … and posting my thoughts and listening to what other people were saying, having this conversation among strangers at an incredible level of sophistication. One of the most amazing things about this forum is that you get into a level of depth and intricacy, and intimacy sometimes.”

** My adventures so far with this blog and the wiki, etc., have been a long slog. The curve for me is steep, and I’m trusting to see a reward at the end. The moments are many where I am frustrated with the degree of technical sophistication that’s required, and with my own distractions, as I follow one link after another. I’m amazed at the amount of time this is taking.
** How do issues of libel, plagiarism, copyright infringement and first-amendment values figure in all of this? As a newspaper reporter – my last occupation – I had a corporation behind me (the Anchorage Daily News and its crack first amendment lawyer) in the event I should get into trouble, accused of libel, for instance. As a freelance Web cowboy word manufacturer, who’s going to protect me, support me, in a libel lawsuit? In the Wild West of the Web, people are saying anything they want to, and sooner or later, the proverbial poop is going to hit the fan.
** As a newspaper reporter, I had editors vetting every thing I wrote. They made sure I was on point and didn’t blab to the moon, as I’m doing now, when no one is watching my back. If you’ve read this far, well, guess I’m lucky. … By the way, have you noticed that most blog entries out there in the wider blogosphere elicit few comments? I know a man, one of the smartest people on the planet, who’s blogging regularly about the future of newspapers and more importantly of journalism and the heart of its enterprise, and few people are commenting on his posts, which are meaty with ideas and inspiration. Is it possible – oh perish the thought – that the multitudes who are writing online, who are strutting as on a stage, an electronic world stage, are performing for the illusion of an audience?
** The new media world needs editors badly. The writing is not just sloppy, with typos and misspellings and all the rest. It’s often lame and self-indulgent (no surprise there). Often the stuff is the quality of a first draft. I once played guitar in a band. Before I got the guitar, when I was hungering for one but didn’t know how to get it and what kind to get, a friend who also wanted one said to me that I should not even go near an electric guitar, for an electric guitar would only “amplify your mistakes.” (I bought electric, just as he did.) ... The web amplifies our mistakes.

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