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ColoradoGuy
06-12-2008, 08:08 PM
It's a chronic, running debate--physical books vs. e-books, the coming of the New Publishing Paradigm, the Kindle, the joy of holding a physical book vs. the convenience of ephemeral pixels, and so on ad infinitum (or ad nauseum). There's a current iteration of the endless discussion running over on Nathan Bransford's blog (http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2008/06/more-on-e-books.html). My question is more subtle than that: does the physical nature of the words affect how we apprehend them, how our brains react to them? I think it does. I suppose my notion is sort of an odd offshoot of Reader Response Theory (http://www.xenos.org/essays/litthry4.htm): the physical state of the text affects its behavior on the reader.

Perhaps my perspective on this is odd. I've got a graduate degree in history and I once had a part-time job in the rare book room of a research library. So I love poring over old, dusty paper with writing on it. I even collect old books for the joy of the feeling and the smell. (I collect fountain pens, too, another obsolete object.)

In spite of that, I think the way the words are physically presented affects how they are received by the reader. If that's true, then e-books and the like, if/when they come to dominate reading, will fundamentally change how we react to the text.

Or so says me.

Ruv Draba
06-13-2008, 01:08 AM
does the physical nature of the words affect how we apprehend them, how our brains react to them? Heck, yes!

Examples from my professional practice include business cards and the typeface and formatting in which I submit business documents. My clients are extremely sensitive to these things. They influence the social perception of my company, the prestige of my clients in their engagement of me, and consequently their confidence in my advice.

When I'm reading fiction I'm moderately sensitive to typography. Overspaced, large type creates for me an impression of cynical marketing, while cramped or blurred typography makes the publication feel cheap, regardless of the stock that it's printed on. Both have some effect on my perception of the writing.

I think that many e-book evangelists haven't yet realised that e-book presentation is as important to acceptance as e-book information. Readers don't pay for just the information, but the experience of receiving it.

Plot Device
06-13-2008, 06:56 AM
Hard copy actually allows me to be more organized than electronic stuff does. Funny because electronic stuff was suppsoed to make that easier not harder.




I am able to recall WHERE on the printed page I read a particular factoid because I very intuitively divide a page into halves (or, if it's a 2-column page, into quadrants). So any given piece of info will be found in one of these places:

Left Page, upper-half
Left Page, lower-half
Right Page, upper-half
Right Page, lower half.

When I am trying to locate a specific factoid I read once bfore, I am able to scan JUST the targetted page sections, and ignore all the rest. That eliminates 75% (or more) of the book during my scanning endeavor.

But I can't do that sort of organization with electronic data.

Medievalist
06-13-2008, 08:16 AM
E-books do profoundly change how we react to text.

For one thing, most of the spatial orientation of a codex book is lost.

Pat~
06-13-2008, 09:14 AM
For me, e-books will never replace 'real' books; books are like friends. They're more personal, and communicate so much more than sterile information. I also collect old books of favorite authors or genre (old children's books and devotional books). There is so much more communicated in a tangible book--the musty smell or worn corners or loose binding or the handwriting inside tell you it's so much more 'alive' than an e-book. It's had a history of interacting with people that I can see and touch and smell. And when I read it, I can interact with it, too, leaving my trace on it.

rugcat
06-13-2008, 10:29 AM
I think it absolutely does.

Every restaurateur knows that presentation is a vital part of the enjoyment of food.

I read of an analogous experiment that was done (but I have no link) involving high priced quality wine served to the same people in paper cups as opposed to the same wine served in delicate wine glasses on a beautifully set table.

Not surprisingly, presentation made a huge difference in the perception of the quality of the wine. But it was more than just expectations. Brain mapping showed there was a physical difference in way the brain reacted -- in other words, the wine actually tasted different, physically.

I see no reason why text on pages wouldn't be similar -- perceived differently, not just due to what you prefer or are used to, but actually different.

TerzaRima
06-14-2008, 12:39 AM
the way the words are physically presented affects how they are received by the reader.

Yes. Also, one of the advantages of the traditional book is the opportunity to modify the text for yourself--over the years I have in the margins of my favorite books superimposed layers of underlining, scribbled anti-author invective, and question marks; for me it improves the original and subsequent reading experiences (if not the object itself). I don't think you can do this on the Kindle, but I'm not sure.

Traditional book sensualists here need to read Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night. Oh, my.

Aglaia
06-14-2008, 06:26 AM
In spite of that, I think the way the words are physically presented affects how they are received by the reader. If that's true, then e-books and the like, if/when they come to dominate reading, will fundamentally change how we react to the text.

I agree as well, but only to an extent. I think it depends on the reader's purpose. If, for example, my purpose is the sheer entertainment of a beach read, and I have no intention of ever revisiting the novel, a Kindle (or a similar device) would serve me well enough, and I honestly don't think it would change my reaction to the text, or at least not significantly.

If, however, I were reading something more substantial (I, like TerzaRima, have been known to scribble in the occasional margin), then finding myself reading on a Kindle would be extremely frustrating and would alter my experience significantly.

veinglory
06-14-2008, 07:03 AM
Medium is message, but in good and bad ways. It also, if course, effects how the text is written.

Danger Jane
06-14-2008, 07:46 AM
Like Aglaia says, I wouldn't mind reading a book I'll never read again on a Kindle, but when I know I'm buying a classic, I look for the best copy I can find. It's the difference between what I get from the library and what I get from the bookstore...except you pay for most ebooks, and the classics that are free are generally books I want in $16 trade paperback with the plastic-coated cover.


Also, like Plot Device, I divide my pages into sections. I might not remember what page a passage was on, but I remember exactly where on the page it was. And electronically, that distinction is lost. No longer can I flip through pages looking for a key word 1/3 of the way down an even-numbered page.


Ruv mentioned how the look of the text affects his reading. I feel the same way--when there are several editions of a book I'm interested in at a store, I look for the one with the most pleasing text. I don't want lines squished together, but then I don't want to be patronized with extra-large font and big spaces, either.


Perhaps it's not a bad difference. Most likely there are benefits no one has thought of yet to electronic books. But I'm not feeling particularly hasty to switch.

benbradley
06-14-2008, 08:32 AM
...
Ruv mentioned how the look of the text affects his reading. I feel the same way--when there are several editions of a book I'm interested in at a store, I look for the one with the most pleasing text. I don't want lines squished together, but then I don't want to be patronized with extra-large font and big spaces, either.
That's an advantage of an electronic reader (if it's got any decent features at all, it's gotta have this) - you can set it to exactly the font, size and line spacing you like (just like in Microsoft Word or a page layout program), and every book will be displayed that way. But e-readers need to have pretty high resolution to make the best of this, probably significantly higher than they have now (what's the dots per inch of the Kindle display?)

Perhaps it's not a bad difference. Most likely there are benefits no one has thought of yet to electronic books. But I'm not feeling particularly hasty to switch.
Well, there's the semi-obvious stuff you can do with any electronic text document - push a button and get a concordance, so you've got an index to every word used in the text. Of course these are probably only useful for reference books and other non-fiction - for novels, people will just want to READ the book.

Keyan
06-16-2008, 11:09 PM
I am waiting to re-read Joyce's Ulysses as an e-book with extensive notes. There's so much there that's just waiting to be transformed into hypertext.

Quossum
06-23-2008, 05:46 PM
My husband now reads everything on his phone; he downloads books all the time. I'm the Luddite of the family and can't get into that. I have to have the book in my hand. I also use fountain pens and don't own a cell phone.

Perception is everything. To him, it's an advantage to be able to make the print bigger, and he also changes the background to dark and the words to light. To me, a book just doesn't seem right if it's not a book.

--Q

Ruv Draba
06-24-2008, 08:03 AM
That's an advantage of an electronic reader (if it's got any decent features at all, it's gotta have this) - you can set it to exactly the font, size and line spacing you like (just like in Microsoft Word or a page layout program), and every book will be displayed that way.That's true and searchability/annotation is darn useful too, but there's also a sort of 'Ipod trap" to it all. With an Ipod you can hear whatever songs you want in whatever order - but in satisfying convenience and personal preference we lose something of the artists'/producers' notion of the album.

Analogously while I'm happy to receive news and reference information online (I love my online Encyclopedia Britannica subscription, f'rex!), I prefer my cinema and TV on DVD, and I prefer my 'heavy' fiction as books. Is it the cover art? The weight? The shelf-space? The comforting stack of unread lit beside my bed? The thoughts these things provoke? Maybe all of these.

Danger Jane
06-25-2008, 08:26 AM
That's true and searchability/annotation is darn useful too, but there's also a sort of 'Ipod trap" to it all. With an Ipod you can hear whatever songs you want in whatever order - but in satisfying convenience and personal preference we lose something of the artists'/producers' notion of the album.

Very true. Sometimes it takes a long car ride until I realize how solid an album is, because until then I only listened primarily to three key tracks. A year later, I'm driving home from Boston and, oh man, it turns out that every song on Belle & Sebastian's Tigermilk is absolutely boss.

I hate to find myself targeting a key passage or scene in a favorite book. It takes away from my enjoyment of the whole book, because all the sudden I realize that I like this one scene so much that the whole rest of the book is either buildup from the scene, or else it's afterward and I'm just reading it because of my ocd need to finish things. It'd be a lot easier to target passages--and abandon whole works--with hypertext.

t0neg0d
07-10-2008, 03:19 AM
As a related (but separate) point of view:

The music industry has changed completely. Due (in full) to online transfer of music (and the piracy of said music), money related to record sales is all but obsolete, leaving artists completely destitute if they do not consistently tour. Consider, just for a minute, what effect this has on their home-life in regards to time with their family, etc. It also changed the paradigm of a "complete" work of music (concept albums, separate pieces of music that are intended to be listened to in sequential order, etc.) to individual songs that can only stand by themselves. This, alone, crippled a portion of music as an art-form, never mind the financial impact stated above.

Hearing that books are migrating to digital format is a little frightening for an author, with what has happened in other industries. Documents are much smaller in size, and considering I could download an entire library in the time it would take to download the typical movie, it makes me wonder if this is such a good idea.

AMCrenshaw
07-24-2008, 09:50 AM
Man. And I thought I was writing a story.

But what I'm really doing is making a book. I make the distinction now, in awe of us, because I never thought I would need to. Make a distinction, that is.

:) Now I'm wondering if I would have ever read Only Revolutions by Mark Z. D. if not in book form. It's illogical!

Stories and papyrus are inseparable. The story's love for papyrus resembles the eternal rocks beneath! Never speak of their separation again!

AMC

Medievalist
07-24-2008, 10:23 AM
I am waiting to re-read Joyce's Ulysses as an e-book with extensive notes. There's so much there that's just waiting to be transformed into hypertext.

Do you know about the hypertext Joyce? That's exactly what's being done by a consortium of amazing Joyce scholars.

Keyan
07-24-2008, 12:02 PM
Do you know about the hypertext Joyce? That's exactly what's being done by a consortium of amazing Joyce scholars.

I didn't know about it. Is it accessible to the general public? If so, where?

Priene
07-24-2008, 02:32 PM
The advantage of electronic text is flexibility. Pixels v papyrus is a misnomer. Electronic text is data in files. Pixels are one of many ways of viewing that data. A straight reading of an e-text file isn't a much different (but in my opinion a currently a slightly worse) experience than reading a orinted book.

But imagine you're blind, and you want to read that early, censored version of Ulysses. Maybe there's no braille version available. A printed book won't help you, but a braille printer/e-text version combination will.

Perhaps your eyesight's not what it was. Narrator software is your friend. Or at least more a friend than your real ones will be after they've read six hundred pages of Finnegans Wake to you.

Maybe you fancy reading foreign books, but your grasp of the language isn't so great. Translation software can help, and cut and paste is a sight faster than data entry.

Medievalist
07-24-2008, 04:47 PM
damn -- the Hypertext Ulysses is dead in the water; Michael Groden (google him) of U. Waterloo, Canada, was working as project lead for years on it. In 2000 he was using Night Kitchen's TK3 as the hypertext publishing tool--(I worked for them).

At the last minute, I've just learned, the Joyce estate killed the project.

MelancholyMan
07-24-2008, 09:36 PM
I recall an interesting story from World War II concerning this topic.

Airman flying over a particular area in Africa were given pictographs to show to the tribesmen living below them should they happen to crashland in that area. It was hoped that this would aid in communication and hence the survival rates of downed airmen. But when this was actually tested in practice, the brains of the neolithic people below proved incapable of interpreting the 2D images on the paper. It isn't that they weren't smart, it was that their neural structure both genetically, and environmentally, hadn't developed to interpret reading. This is similar to the way the brains of people born deaf are incapable of interpreting sound if they, as adults, have surgery to repair the deafness defect. The area of the brain designed to be stimulated by sound never got used so was taken over for other activities.

Writing has only been around about 6,000 years. And it has only been widespread for about a 1,000 years. While 1,000 years isn't enough time for any significant evolutionary changes to take place, it is more than enough for adaptation through natural selection to have a big effect. Modern humans then, especially in the west where books became widespread hundreds of years ago, probably have a neural structure that is predisposed to interpreting 2D images, just as our brains are hard-wired for forming speech patterns. It is not a stretch to consider that images flashed on a screen are different enough to produce a less pleasing experience in most people than absorbing static images.

Consider also that the eye differentiats text on a page from reflected ambient light, whereas electronic reading is usually backlit. The brain, optimized for working with reflected light, is going to know the difference.

Also, books don't need batteries.

-MM

Plot Device
07-24-2008, 09:45 PM
I don't believe for a minute that the African tribesmen had a problem stemming from their genetics. I'd say their inability to grasp the aerial photos lay entirely in the realm of their cognitive develoment and the style of geographic schematizing that they grew up with. I believe very adamantly that had you gone into that tribe twenty years earlier and then taken away one of their newborn babies and raised that baby in a Western society, that baby would have grown up into an adult capable of reading a map just fine.

Keyan
07-25-2008, 12:05 PM
I don't believe for a minute that the African tribesmen had a problem stemming from their genetics. I'd say their inability to grasp the aerial photos lay entirely in the realm of their cognitive develoment and the style of geographic schematizing that they grew up with. I believe very adamantly that had you gone into that tribe twenty years earlier and then taken away one of their newborn babies and raised that baby in a Western society, that baby would have grown up into an adult capable of reading a map just fine.

I think you're right. I don't think any of the human race have proven *genetically* incapable of understanding 2-d representations, but it might be external to their culture. (I have a tough time believing even that, though...almost all human cultures include some form of drawing or painting, and this goes back to the neolithic era IIRC.) I suspect there was a language barrier, interpreted by the airmen as a developmental barrier. Or, quite possibly, an entirely different way of thinking about geography, depending on what the pictographs were supposed to achieve. Pictographs are not necessarily unambiguous.

Keyan
07-25-2008, 12:44 PM
damn -- the Hypertext Ulysses is dead in the water; Michael Groden (google him) of U. Waterloo, Canada, was working as project lead for years on it. In 2000 he was using Night Kitchen's TK3 as the hypertext publishing tool--(I worked for them).

At the last minute, I've just learned, the Joyce estate killed the project.

That sucks. Wonder if the copyright will expire, or if it's held in a corporation now.

Shadow_Ferret
07-25-2008, 07:45 PM
The advantage of electronic text is flexibility.
The day they make the darned readers water proof will be a triumph of flexibility. The day I can read one in the tub or shower without electrocuting myself or shorting the thing out is the day I go and get one. Until then, books are more flexible.

Priene
07-26-2008, 12:00 AM
The day they make the darned readers water proof will be a triumph of flexibility. The day I can read one in the tub or shower without electrocuting myself or shorting the thing out is the day I go and get one. Until then, books are more flexible.

Because paper and baths go together so well, right?

Like I say. Printed books are fine as long as you're fully sighted, not interested in translation, don't want to listen to them (car driving, anyone?) and a heap of other possible innovations.

Shadow_Ferret
07-28-2008, 08:33 PM
Because paper and baths go together so well, right?

Like I say. Printed books are fine as long as you're fully sighted, not interested in translation, don't want to listen to them (car driving, anyone?) and a heap of other possible innovations.
Yes. Because if you drop it in the water you can just put it in the oven to dry out.

If you drop your e-reader your out $500. And hopefully, you didn't have it plugged in.

I can't listen to books on audio in the car. I find the very act of driving keeps me so occupied that I keep missing details. Rewinding every few paragraphs is really annoying.

By the way, I'm not saying there isn't a place for e-readers, I just don't think they're going to replace real books anytime soon.

Higgins
07-28-2008, 08:38 PM
I recall an interesting story from World War II concerning this topic.

Airman flying over a particular area in Africa were given pictographs to show to the tribesmen living below them should they happen to crashland in that area. It was hoped that this would aid in communication and hence the survival rates of downed airmen. But when this was actually tested in practice, the brains of the neolithic people below proved incapable of interpreting the 2D images on the paper. It isn't that they weren't smart, it was that their neural structure both genetically, and environmentally, hadn't developed to interpret reading.



I wonder what those pictographs looked like? For that matter, Neolithic people and other low-tech societies have used pictographs themselves.
For example.
http://www.desertusa.com/mag07/jan/imagesinstone.html

Another thing -- though somewhat off-topic -- is the adventures of what happened to airmen and sailors who ended up needing help from the former cannibals of the Solomon Islands during WWII. Or Yucatan in the sixteenth century (yes those eArly Aeronauts of the Spanish main were an anachronistic lot)...some were eaten of couse, some married into the local aristocracy, some became advisors to the local leaders and some got home after many adventures. Maybe a convincing "I'm not edible" pictograph is all you need. Or just an unappetizing overall appearance.

JamieB
07-29-2008, 07:40 AM
Fineprint Lit Management has a good article about e-publishing on their new blog. Here's a link if anyone wants to check it out: http://fineprintlit.blogspot.com/

Priene
07-29-2008, 09:35 AM
By the way, I'm not saying there isn't a place for e-readers, I just don't think they're going to replace real books anytime soon.

I agree that printed books currently have advantages over e-books. There are a set of usability features possessed by books which are proving difficult to emulate. Durability is one. Power cables and batteries is another. Weight is another. Ditto waterproofing. I doubt any of these is insurmountable, though. At some point in the next few years - I don't know enough about what's currently available to guess when it might be - somebody is going to come up with an e-reader which has no significant disadvantages over the printed page.

I doubt that I'll ever move over to e-books. A generation which grew up to the smell and feel of paper probably isn't going to want to adapt (except in the case of out-of-physical-print books, which incidentally is another huge advantage e-books will have over printed ones). But the ones coming up - the ones who can't imagine a world without an internet - they'll make the move. They already carry around their entire record collection in a box the size of a cigarette lighter. They'll want to do the same with their library. And paper books will go the way of the 33-and-a-third RPM LP and the video cassette.