Print is BLANK

As part of having my grad students introduce themselves at the start of the class, I asked them to fill in the blank in the following statement: Print is ______.

The classes are a mix of returning and new grad students, so I was interested in seeing if there were going to be a range of answers. What the students answered were surprising.  Most of them still believe in the primacy of print. It can be "evolving" or "changing" but they don't see it going away. There were a few other students who viewed it as an essential format, but a format nonetheless.

I think my favorite response was that Print is something older people worry about. There's is a lot to unpack in that statement. Why are older people worried about it? Why aren't younger people worried about it?  It doesn't hint at if there should be a worry but identifies a dividing line in different methods of thinking.

Here are the answers from my students:

Print is _______
  • Not going away.
  • Evolving.
  • Changing.
  • An art form.
  • Another format.
  • Beautiful.
  • My life.
  • Stubborn.
  • Something older people worry about.
  • Never ever, ever, ever going to die.
  • Everlasting.
  • Form, not function.
  • Preferred.
  • In flux.
  • Alive and well.
  • An amazing medium.
  • Addictive.
  • Useful.
  • Relevant.

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A few brief thoughts on information environmentalism


Over the past year I have seen my consumption of information slow down. I've gone from daily visits to Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, and LinkedIn to weekly or monthly visits. I found no real reason for the visits. It's not like I was contributing anything meaningful to a conversation, nor was I finding any useful information about friends and family.

At the same time I was uncoupling from social networks, I was also reading several books that I assumed were in opposition to my general outlook, but were worthwhile books that deserved a close read. Two of those books, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age* and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, were dealing with these issues as well. Both are worth reading if you're at all interested in how our culture views it's relationship with the web. But in both books, the authors took time to talk about how they found it hard to turn off the machine and had to impose internet-free or computer-free time at home. When I was reading this it struck me as odd. I understood the parallel of limiting TV consumption, but would we feel the same about book and magazine consumption? And do adults really need these limits? I understand why boundaries must be set for children and teenagers, but adults can't power down devices? Too much of a good thing....

This past weekend I was at the Chihuly exhibit at the MFA with my parents and wife. First impression- "ooh, pretty glass. Lots of pretty glass." Then we started noticing the flashes. People were trying to photograph the glass with their flashes turned on. Then we noticed that people were photographing every single display using their cameras and phones. Almost to the point where they were no longer admiring the pieces and spending their time taking photographs. It felt as if people were there to capture the art but without the experience. By the third room it was apparent no one was "being here now" and the photos were being used to capture the information so that they could process it later (I think my moment came when I noticed people were photographing the Navajo blankets that lined a wall. Blankets that can be found in thousands of homes across the United States (Been out to the Southwest? Have a blanket/ rug? A similar one was probably on the wall). The exhibit reminded me of the concept of information environmentalism, something Carr and Powers alluded to in their book, but never made a strong case for it, other than as a personal responsibility.

So what?

I guess I'm putting these thoughts down here because it's something that we need to keep in mind when writing blog posts and uploading photos and tweets. How much of this is necessary and how much is ephemera? How can we improve the signal to noise ratio? Should we improve the ratio or let more noise in? Who gets to decide and how are we going to store this in any meaningful way? And how will access be provided that cuts through the noise? If we are to take our consumption of information as part of a bigger ecology, are we destroying it with every tweet and new Facebook profile picture? Does it matter all that much? And is all this consumption actually speeding up the "process of dumbening?"

*Okay publishers, I know you can't really control Amazon's pricing on all editions, but the Kindle edition of the book is currently two dollars more than the bargain priced hardcover and almost three dollars more than the paperback. And that's with Amazon's discounts applied to list price.

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iRiver Story and Google Books

So Google has announced that iRiver is releasing a $140 device that will be connected to Google's E-book program.

So, is this the Google Books version of the Kindle?

Let's look at the specifications from iRiver's site:

  1. $140 for 2 gigs (Kindle is $114 with ads, $140 without for 4 gigs)

  2. USB

  3. SD card slot (Kindle no longer has SD slot)

  4. Wifi only (same as Kindle)

  5. 6-inch display (Same as Kindle)

  6. Keyboard (same as Kindle)

  7. displays PDF, Epub, TXT, FB2, DJVU, MS office files and image files (Kindle right now doesn't support Epub and uses MOBI, instead. Also provides audiobook support).

Some comments:

  1. It's only 2GB compared to 4GB for the same price

  2. The specs page is one of the only I've seen that outlines a comics viewer, but doesn't handle CBZ and CBR files.

  3. Using Adobe Reader Mobile so there's DRM control, but it's no different than most of the other non-Amazon devices

Here's my biggest concern- both iRiver and Google are promoting this device as the reader for their book store. It's being pitched as the easiest way to reader over 3 million books for free from the Google Book project. The epub version of those books are straight files from the OCR conversion of the PDFs. They have not been proofed and lead to a horrible reading experience. As much as I like the idea of having a reader that ties into one of the greatest online libraries in the world, that library's content is in PDF form, the text and Epub form are wretched. Geoff Nunberg has been rallying against Google's lack of quality control on these books for some time. Laura Miller also has an article in Salon from 2009 that looks at these concerns as well. I haven't seen a vast improvement in Google Books since these articles were published. Try searching for "Publisher's Weekly" in Google Books, there are several volumes that have been scanned and are available. Or just go find your favorite classic in a free version and look at the pure text version (Here's a link to the pure text version of a conversion of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, look at the table of contents in pure text form and think about how you would feel seeing this after paying for a reader to read this.)

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