Sunday, October 18, 2009

WE'RE ALL LUDDITES AGAIN


The New York Times has another one of their inane "articles" on e-readers. This one has a title that just oozes inanity: "Does the brain like E-Books?"

(Reading, as some of us know, involves some high-falutingly named cognitive processes, all having to do with translating high-(one may hope)contrast squiggles into what eventually should be a world. This process is abstract and independent of how the squiggles are embodied. Embodiment just jiggles the parameters; things like the speed of reading. [My advice: Better read fast if it's written on water!])

(Point two. The brain doesn't "like" anything. The brain doesn't contain a homonculus/a that injects pleasure -- or any other form of evaluate judgment -- into the brain's processing modules, any more than the gut feels disgust about all the shit it has to deal with.) (Of course, a mind can feel disgust about all the shit it has to deal with. Hence, par example, this post.)

Sandra Aamodt points out the blindingly (half-pun intended) obvious: It's not about the squibbles themselves, but the implementation. Computer screens fatigue you with their luminance; computer screens also have pnicely inbuilt additional distractions (they tend to contain the whole of the Known Internet, for starters, as well as all of your iTunes). David Gelernter (what's in a name!) points out another blindingly obvious fact: You can search e-books. Like: OMG! OMFG!

So, yeah, I'd have just loved to have heard the town criers on that new invention, the wax tablet (it deadens your memory!); papyrus (your records will rot before your very eyes!); the book (what? no scrolling?); loose type (scribes out of work! scribes out of work!); and the illustration (kills the imagination! kills the imagination!).

Implementation, that's all it is*. As long as the squiggles are the same, the world conjured up will be the same. (The reading mind being the same. Which it never is. Hence the joy of rereading.) No need to spill that much ink (ha!) or pixels over it. Relax. It's all good. It's only about words, and nobody cares about those. (Certainly not the NYT, who now routinely has its book reviews done by novelists. Can't wait for Jay-Z's thorough review of the next Lil' Wayne! 'D love to see Aaron Spelling's take on Thirty Rock! Glenn Beck's -- and no-one else's -- insights on Jon Stewart! Wonder why you become irrelevanter by the minute?)

Still, now that Kindles turn out to be beloved by middle-aged folks rather than hipster young-uns, it's nice to be for once see the pot-bellied and bald crowd ROFLing on their hi-pile carpets.

--
* And so, indeed, if I pay about the same amount to get Dawkins's new one on Kindle as I were to pay for the hardcover, can I please get a black and white version of the color illustrations he refers to, and readable black and whites? And while we're at it, if you handicap the book by kindling it, couldn't you tell me this before I shelled out my hard-earned money, unaptly-named Free Press?

11 comments:

Sergio C. Gutiérrez-Negrón said...

fuck, well said.
will repost in blog.

dan said...

Paul

i am the person who asked the Times to post this blog topic, and after six months of their saying NO to me, they finally did it on Room for Debate. Papercuts and Bits blogs at the Times refused me all this time, and even banned me from posting comments there. Weird. Ask me why I suggested this topic, and see my blog on all this at
http://zippy1300.blogspot.com

You made an atomic typo here and it's because you were "screening", er, screading, er, diging, er, screen reading. SEE WORLD SHOULD BE WORD. PLEASE FIX: (Reading, as some of us know, involves some high-falutingly named cognitive processes, all having to do with translating high-(one may hope)contrast squiggles into what eventually should be a *world*.

I AM a Luddite, here in my cave in Taiwan. I believe that reading on paper is so different from readong on screens, both emotionally and mentally, that we need a new word for it. or World? SMILE. Do you agree or disagree, Paul? and if you agree, what word or term might you suggtest for this new kind of ahem reading we do on these screens? DISH!~ or email me offline at danbloom AT gmail DOT com -- 24/7/365 I am there. Read my blog first. Get back to me. This is important. Most peopke still don't get it. we are facing a new world where people will lose their critical thinking skills if everything goes to screen and paper books die off because of capitalism's greed. In fact, there is NO NEED for e-readers other than greed and market share and money. We do not NEED them. Books are fine. Print newspapers are fine. More than fine, they are VITAL. Ask me how i know all this....

Paul Verhaeghen said...

No typo -- "world" was what I meant.
And the "word"/"world" divide exactly illustrates where this non-discussion is going. My argument is that words, however embodied, create worlds, and the world is what it's all about. The rest (ink, scroll, book, pixels, e-ink, sonorously read by Peter Ustinov) is delivery. As long as the delivery method is above some comfort threshold (don't read anything written in your truly's handwriting, say) we'll all be remarkably fine. And so will be civilization. (Small aside: We have more urgent things to deal with, re: losing of critical thinking skills, if I look around me in this country during the current health care, uh, "debate".)
But likely my own critical thinking skills have dwindled to non-existence, for I read (and bookmark and clip and annotate and search and vocabularize and encyclope) on a kindle if I can help it and write likewise almost exclusively on a computer, and this is true for both my researcher job and my narrator nonjob.

dan said...

Hello Paul,

Re: "No typo -- "world" was what I meant."

Dan E. Bloom replies: ''I stand corrected. I rushed to judgment, the proofreader in me jumped too fast. Now I see. Thanks for correction. Eating humble pie now.''


RE: "My argument is that words, however embodied, create worlds, and the world is what it's all about. The rest (ink, scroll, book, pixels, e-ink, sonorously read by Peter Ustinov) is delivery. As long as the delivery method is above some comfort threshold (don't read anything written in *your[s] truly's handwriting*, say) we'll all be remarkably fine. And so will be civilization." GOOD POINT, SIR.

RE: "(Small aside: We have more urgent things to deal with, re: losing of critical thinking skills, if I look around me in this country during the current health care, uh, "debate".)
But likely my own critical thinking skills have dwindled to non-existence, for I read (and bookmark and clip and annotate and search and vocabularize and encyclope) on a kindle [*CAPITAL K for Kindle, copyright infringement*] if I can help it and write likewise almost exclusively on a computer, and this is true for both my researcher job and my narrator nonjob."

BUT, PAUL, and you are not going to like what I am going to say, listen to me here: YOU learned to write by learning to read as a kid in Belgium. READING begets GOOD WRITERS. We all know that. Every writer is a very good reader, he/she LOVES language and words and where did he/she gets this love of language? From reading paper books as a kid. YOU, too, sir.

Sure, now we have megacool hyperorgasmic convience gadgetheads to help read and write quicker and quicker, and it's cool and I love it too. BUT take a step back, Paul, and think about HOW YOU learned to write.

MY FEAR is that future generations will lose the ability to compose words -- on paper, on a keyboard, on a screen, no matter, even on the sidewalk -- if they do not grow up learning to read on paper surfaces first, slowly, methodically, one step at a time.

UNLESS we want a manga twitter world of illiterates running this WORLD in the future. Is that what you want? I doonna think so.

Okay, so we sort of agree and sort of disagree. Fine. WHAT DO YOU THINK, Paul, about my search for a new word or term for reading on screens, not better or worse, but a new word for screen-reading, since screenreading encompasses much more than just "reading" -- there are photos, videos, sounds, it's almost like a movie sometimes, and we are watching the text on the screen in a way, much more than "reading" it, as reading has come to mean for paper reading.

Agree? Disagree?

And what word or term might you suggest for this new kind of reading? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. This is now my life's work. No PHD. Just a brain. AND a heart.

Cheers,

DHB
http://zippy1300.blogspot.com

I am NOT a Luddite, that's luddicrous. Although i do live in a cave in Taiwan.

Paul Verhaeghen said...

This must be the first time *anyone* has ever described the kindle as a "megacool hyperorgasmic convience gadgetheads". Ever held one of those? I know -- whoa careful! Dontcha wanna lick that screen, baby, till there's no tomorrow? And they practically do your shopping for you too!

Well, I understand that you are gripped by fear, to the point of going all-out in all-CAPITAL LETTERS to express said fear. Why? Where are the data to support this fear? The NYT piece hardly cites any. (Part of its inanity.) Only Aamodt refers to actual studies, and she pertinently summarizes that "(f)ifteen or 20 years ago, electronic reading also impaired comprehension compared to paper, but those differences have faded in recent studies." She rightfully cites the few studies that have been done on (workplace) task switching: On computers, we leap much more readily, but at high cost, from doing one thing to doing another. That is hardly the screen's fault; it's the fault of the distractions that lurk underneath. (Distracted at the workplace? Nah!) These distractions not unlike the television screen at home, or the joys of human interaction for an evening. Damn, with those bloody computers and those bloody fellow humans around, I'll never get down to writing!

Interesting too is the premise that reading should serve some purpose (fostering critical thinking was mentioned; indeed, an increase in logical-mathematical ability is often observed after absorbing Dan Brown's magical offerings; a lifetime of reading DeLillo has left me with quite amazing powers of deduction and abstraction). We read -- those of us who do -- because we enjoy. That's all. Again, whatever the medium. If you don't enjoy, you surf away. Simple as that. And now we simply have more doohickeys, moving images and sound and all, that allow such surfing, so that those who don't enjoy reading lengthy exposes or narratives don't have to. They were just pretending anyway, or else long lost to Harlan Coben. Is there anything tangible to suggest that prolonged exposure to Henry James makes one, well, a better human? (Whatever that may be?)

To conjecture, I would be surprised if literature is going the way of the dodo. What I do predict (not a hard prediction to make, methinks) is that literature is going the way of the opera. That process started long before computers and kindles landed in every lap. Bombing Bezos's hardware factories -- or Sony's, or Nintendo's -- won't do a thing for humankind. Would it?

Relax. It's called change. We humans have survived change for about a million years now. And if we don't, well what of it? Planet'd be better off without us anyway.

And now I am going to lie down and take my meds and shut the eff up.

MBR said...

We're going to need at least a few more posts with "pot-bellied rofl-ing" tags.

dan said...

Paul,

I enjoy this conversation. You are right in 99 percent of what you say, and you say it well, Sensei. And I like your comparison of the future of literature to opera; you are most likely right and it started long ago, true.

But Paul, I am not talking just about reading post-Beckettian literature or Emily Dickinson's Amherst poems. I am a journalist. I get most of my "news" from print newspapers and the Net. What I find is that when I read the news online, it goes in one brain lobe and out the other, but maybe that's just me. But when I read in the print edition of my papers here in Taiwan, three English dailies and the New York Times edition in English on Tuesdays, THAT's what I call "reading" -- the kind of reading that makes you think about the world, understand the world, get revved up about the world, want to take action in this world of fucked up human rights and Nazi-themed Obama haters and rightwing climate change denialists....THIS is the kind of reading, Paul, that I am worried about. Because if we read newspapers in the future only on screens, even with nice features and cool E-Ink, I worry that this kind of "screening" won't allow the material and ideas in the news stories to SINK IN. Sorry for the CAPS here, I am not shouting, just my typing style for italic emphasis. Please bare (sic) with me. Kdding.

That's all, Paul. By the way, did I tell you about my latest invention here in Taiwan? It's already patended and trademarked and I call it the Bindle. If you google it under "Bindle + zippy1300" you can see a photo of what it looks like.

Cheers,

Danny E. Bloom (the E. is faux)

dan said...

Paul, this is not me talking, this is Stu Levy of TokyoPop:

"....you’re correct - we’re in the early-adapter phase. However, we will quickly move beyond. I don’t personally own a Kindle yet because I don’t like it - bulky, black-and-white, etc. I read on my iPhone and on paper. But when full e-ink, flexible-screen readers come out that truly look and feel as light-weight and convenient as paper, I guarantee paper will die. With the possible exception of art book collectors and the “silver” generation.

The digital avalanche leaves no one standing in its path."

dan said...

Raja99 Says at teleread.org:
October 19th, 2009 at 10:09 pm

RE

“…literature is going the way of the opera.”

Danny, that’s a great quote! Can you tell us who said that (so I can give proper credit)?

I told him it was you, Paul.

dan said...

Paul,
Since so many people LOVE that quote, and it is so REAL, why not do a future post one day on yr blog titled LITERATURE IS GOING TO GO THE WAY OF OPERA as a headline, and do a nice post on this idea. It will get picked up by the New York Times and other outlets, I am sure. You hit on something very important here, although it makes me sad, i think you are right....

DANNY in the cave in Taiwan

dan said...

http://zippy1300.blogspot.com/2009/10/literature-is-going-to-go-way-of-opera.html