Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Facebook About-Face

When old and new media work together to promote literacy, all is well in the world. One such example is the Local Books iPhone app I've swooned over before. Another is the facilitation of reading by Facebook, the very nexus of the modern media trend that threatens to destroy traditional reading.

In December '09, OnlineCollege.org compiled an impressive list of "Awesome Facebook Apps for Serious Bookworms". The oxymoron is plain; but, thus, encouraging! Here are some highlights:

Visual Bookshelf: lets you recommend books and catalogue your own list

aNobii Books: connects you with like-minded readers based on your reading list

Comic Books: provides information on new releases, discussion boards, reviews, and screencasts

Books Geek: publishes your friends' comments about the books you’re reading

World Books: challenges you to read one book from every country


Sell Used Books: a book swap app, with free shipping

Random Reads: lets you search for, recommend and organize books from Random House

Recommend-A-Book: search books by keyword, title, author or ISBN number and recommend them to other users

Collaboration between the print and online publishing worlds is win-win. Rather than fretting over pricing models, statistics over how many eBooks are sold for every hardcover, and battles between independent bookshops and behemoth retailers like Amazon, publishers should be focusing on the simplest ways to mix the best of old (quality content) and new (ease of dissemination and collaboration). Now go make a Shelfari profile.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Corkboard

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by brevity, over-connectedness, emotionally starving for attention, dragging themselves through virtual communities at 3 am....  burning for shared and skeptical approval from the holographic projected dynamo in the technology of the era, who weak connections and recession wounded and directionless, sat up, micro-conversing in the supernatural darkness of Wi-Fi-enabled cafes....  who bound themselves to wireless devices for an endless ride of opiated information from CNN.com and Google on sugary highs until the noise of modems and fax machines brought them down shuddering, with limited and vulgar verbiage to comment threads, battered bleak of shared brain devoid of brilliance in the drear light of a monitor....who texted continuously 140 characters at a time from park to pond to bar to MOMA to Brooklyn Bridge lost battalion of platonic laconic self proclaimed journalists committed to a revolution of information, whole intellects underscored and wiped clean in the total recall 24/7 365 assault all under the gaze of once brilliant eyes."

-from Tweet by Oyl Miller, McSweeney's

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pass the peace pipe: An armistice


Of late, I've resigned myself to the fact that eBooks are poised to edge out their paper counterparts. According to Wired, Amazon officially sold 143 eBooks for every 100 hardcovers over the course of the second quarter of 2010. The very infrastructure of the publishing company I work for is built on shifting material online. Fisher-Price is buzzing about the tablet-style touch screen iXL Learning System, to be released this holiday season, "hailed as the iPad for the fresh-out-of-diapers set." Bibliophile or no, I'm not blind to the book digitization trend, its inevitability, nor its copious advantages:
  • lower production and distribution costs
  • facilitation of interpersonal engagement, through multimedia content and connection to social media
  • potential for enriched learning
  • portability
My yielding to the technological and commercial reality, however, does not concurrently relegate physical books to some cobwebbed attic. Quite the contrary. I think books will become objects of beauty, the province of connoisseurs (I will be one of them). Max Magee of The Millions wrote,
"In a sleek, shiny, distant future, books may feel old and impossibly large, with too much physical mass and all these fussy pages put to use for the simple task of storing a tiny amount of data, data that is not searchable or copy and pasteable or malleable and interactive in the ways we expect of our data....  And yet there is and will always be some beauty in books. And there will always be people who appreciate that beauty....  [Books] are something like snowflakes or at least stamps, so many and so few alike."
Magee predicts that features like deckle-edge pages, embossed lettering and archaic monograms, aesthetic details that celebrate the art of book production, will become more prevalent and elaborate.

Jan Swafford, in a Slate article titled "Why e-books will never replace real books," takes the same stance. He cedes the many benefits of electronic books, even announcing that his next book, on Beethoven, will be "three-dimensional," accompanied by a website with links to music, background content, and a blog. He concludes,
"So real books and e-books will coexist. That has happened time and again with other new technologies that were prophesied to kill off old ones. Autos didn't wipe out horses. Movies didn't finish theater. TV didn't destroy movies. E-books won't destroy paper and ink. The Internet and e-books may set back print media for a while, and they may claim a larger audience in the end. But a lot of people who care about reading will want the feel, the smell, the warmth, the deeper intellectual, emotional, and spiritual involvement of print."
I am comforted by these writers' support of the notion that physical books will never be just relics. We can celebrate the beauty of books without relocating them to behind museum glass. We can own an iPad and a bookshelf in tandem. Or in my case, multiple sagging-near-to-collapse bookshelves.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Waffle Brains

Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, is concerned. Though her research as director of the Center for Reading and Language Research has not yet been conclusive, many signs point to a disturbing verdict: digital reading, as opposed to its paper-based counterpart, may actually short-circuit our brains. Wolf writes,
"We need to understand the value of what we may be losing when we skim text so rapidly that we skip the precious milliseconds of deep reading processes. For it is within these moments—and these processes in our brains—that we might reach our own important insights and breakthroughs. They might not happen if we’ve skipped on to the next text bite."

According to Wolf, the formation and development of complex brain pathways by reading takes years. She states that "there is no genetic guarantee that any individual novice reader will ever form the expert reading brain circuitry that most of us form." Thus, the brain of a reader who uses only a fraction of their available cognitive resources is less maturely developed than that of a reader who expends intellectual effort in proving multiple layers of meaning. And, just like a muscle, lack of exercise leads to atrophy. Our societal glut of immediate information, coupled with the effort to reduce that information to its tiniest magnitude, could have measurable physical effects.

Playwright Richard Foreman asks, in contemplation of the question, "How is the Internet changing the way you think," asks,
"Are we becoming Pancake People — spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button?"
Maybe as Pancake People we're also developing Waffle Brains- little nutritional value, light as air, perforated by empty space.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Corkboard


"Featuring a book on your bookshelf is akin to displaying a trophy. You’ve accomplished something in reading a book; it feels like a victory. The opportunity to display your literary conquests in unique or unexpected ways is something I will greatly miss with e-readers."
-The Book Bench

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Corkboard

"The digital evolution, or revolution, or whatever it is, we're in the middle of it right now. Everyone wants to know where it ends up. But it's hard to know where it ends up when you're in the middle of it." 
-Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal