Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"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 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


"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


"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

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cover Up

One fundamental difference between print and online periodicals: the concept of a front page. Magazine covers have no digital counterpart: the homepage of a magazine's website contains images, links, lists, ads, all competing for your attention. But a magazine on a newsstand makes one singular bold effort to magnetize:

99% of the time I decide what magazine to buy based on its cover. Do I like the featured celebrity? Do the headlines intrigue me? Sometimes I'll pull it off the shelf and flip through it, but more often than not my decision is made based on that initial visual contact. Much thought and muscle go into the design of an issue cover; and when the market receives it successfully the payoff is huge. No one will forget the Rolling Stone cover of Yoko and John:

or the LIFE moon landing chronicle:

Striking cover images can live in infamy unlike the nebulous homepage of a magazine's website, constantly shifting and changing and being updated and scrolled through and commented on and retweeted (I still don't know what that means). The American Society of Magazine Editors put together a "10 years in 2 minutes with 92 covers" video re-telling of the past decade.

With the migration of journalism from print to online, I consider the loss of magazine covers a considerable one. Editorial content is the heft of a publication's value, yes, but how memorable is a list of links accompanied by thumbnails on an iPhone or Kindle? Even print pubs are taking a cue from their digital cousins and offering readers cover customization: Wallpaper* Magazine is hawking the chance to "play art director for the day" and Graphic Arts Monthly offered five different covers for its January issue based on a survey of its 70,000 subscribers, each reader receiving the copy whose cover story pertained most specifically to them. The magazine industry has had flames licking at its edges for some time now- evidenced by Out of Print titles and magazine graveyards, plus magazine aggregate sites like Maggwire. But I'm fighting the trend tooth and nail- editors, and your design teams, you can still have my dollars!