Arrr, Another Brick

It’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy knaves — but the University of Michigan Shapiro Library too another step toward unbricking knowledge by installing a print-on-demand book machine. It’s another little increment, but it points ahead toward a book-preparation model where we distribute our fictions and arguments in complementary print and digital versions, each with its own affordances.
That reminds me that I’ve heard from several people that they were impressed by a slide from my presentation in Austria — a slide I popped in for the sake of visual rhythm, more than as a point I wanted to emphasize. The slide contrasted the benefits of digital books with printed versions: I suggested that digital media are shareable, searchable, and disposable, whereas their physical versions are durable, artifactual, and ownable. I’m very sure that this should be refined, but I’m also thankful that a spontaneous intuition sparked the interest of some observers.
I mean, “…sparrrrrked the intarrrrrest of some obserrrrverrrrrs, matey!”

5 thoughts on “Arrr, Another Brick

  1. While I agree that codices are indeed “durable, artifactual, and ownable” the charitable side of me wants there to be some other reason that people still want “books” in the age of Kindles. “Durable, artifactual, and ownable” means that the codex is reduced merely to a fetish object. It becomes a means to display one’s wealth (of money, knowledge, taste…) rather than something that is valuable in its own right.

    If true, what a sad epitaph for the Gutenberg age!

    Though currently it does not seem to fit the observable facts. If “durable, artifactual, and ownable” was really all the advantage that the codex has then surely we’d be seeing a flourishing of Folio Society-type editions with beautiful binding and good paper. Instead we see a flourishing of cheap paperbacks. Maybe there is something else that a “book” does?

    I suspect it is nostalgia, reading a “book” takes you back to the “good old days” of Jane Austen even if you are reading Alice Sebold 😉

    Can anyone come up with a better, yet still convincing reason why people buy (and will perhaps continue to buy, even after they use e-readers) codices? Or are we reduced merely to the book as fetish or the book as nostalgia…

  2. I don’t scorn the affect associated with nostalgia; I practice obsolete technologies all the time (fountain pens and pocket watches, to name but two prominent ones). So right off the bat, I’d submit that what you call “nostalgia” provides sufficient reason in itself.
    But you’re right, there’s more to it than that. The kind of reference/reading to which you point does happen differently, and (so far as I’ve heard) more pleasurably in a book. If I want to preserve the three-way contrast, I should come up with some way to characterize that affordance.

  3. I suspect that there is still (though I have not yet actually seen a real live Kindle) some residual impact of the “Annie Proulx effect”1. Even my laptop screen is not such a physically comfortable read as a well printed and typeset paperback… unless Kindle screens are a whole leap forward people will still read onscreen for one kind of convenience (portability, searchability, cheapness…) while preferring print for others (notably colour and less eyestrain 😉

    1. I’m referring to her often quoted remark from the NYT in 1994

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