Thursday, February 16, 2006

E-texts: Future Perfect, or Inherently Marginal? 

E-textbooks aren't selling, says CNN, which posits both an eventual acceleration in sales and cites surprise that the digital generation isn't as digital as folks thought they were.

But I wonder if those who expect "comfort" to grow are underestimating the subconsciously developing instincts of the digital generation. I mean, I'm only half digital, but I found the e-version of Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe so inacessible that I made it to the library within the first ten pages to continue the job.

Quoted anecdotals in CNN's most recent foray into this broad issue cite the limitations of ownership in digital texts, such as the current inability to easily highlight, which will eventually shift as our mindtools evolve, though it may never be as comfortable or permanent as the true joy of bookhacking with pencil and pagefold.

But the paperesque strategies of ownership are not all there is to ownership; the truths of screenreading are not the truths of paperreading.

The conceit of e-speech as short-and-sweet, is constantly reinforced, and seems anathema to the idealized use of textbooks. And we know that from a primarily holistic perspective (as opposed to a practice-and-habit perspective), which would include everything from sensory psychology to workplace ergonomics, the screenread results in less and slower absorption, which means screen-writing mandates shorter paragraphs. And shorter paragraphs seem anathema to the very premise of textbook, by which I mean they are not likely to be typically best-serving of the typographic needs of the field-specific textbook, which aches to be written, read, and treated as deep and detailed.

Profs can try to assign these texts all they want, I suspect; bookstore managers are free to stock what they will, and suggest to CNN that it is a matter of time before students move towards the e-book (though they should have by now, if they were going to). But students who really grok digital may continue to resist. The medium is the message, after all: after years growing digital, our habits of mind and our sensory truths may out the digital textbook as a fluke for the few, a type for the practitioner, rather than a true medium for the learned whether cybercitizen or luddite.

McLuhanists would posit, of course, that the digital scholar would not only write to, but eventually study, that which best befits the cybertext. But Neil Postman always knew we could only reach our full potential in the best sort of literate, wordsmithed scholarship through the word-as-it-is, not the word-of-the-screen. Paper may yet be vital to our study of the universe.

It may not, of course. McLuhan and Postman have been ever-right before, but I suppose the true nature of the C-Change is that it contains all possibility, can only be proven in hindsight. In the meantime, while we wait for time to tell, let us end here, lest the screenwrite -- like our paragraphs herein -- run too long for our topic at hand.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:51 PM |

You and yer Postman
He's your Postman, too, man.

Hey, I paid 75 grand to know about why Postman is the media inheritor of McLuhan. By those standards, this blogentry is worth about 15k.
e ink is ookin promising. It looks just like real print and uses very little power since it only uses energy when it changes. Sony is coming out wit a really nice looking e ink book. Will see if it is worth it. I hope so. We have te tech to reduce our waste of paper but have yet to do anything withit really.
Post a Comment
coming soon
now listening