the future of the book (as an interruption) 10.20.2005, 9:22 AM
posted by kim white
Some selected quotes along with a few fragmented thoughts on Meet the Life Hackers, an article in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine which profiles the "nascent field of interruption science."
"Information is no longer a scarce resource - attention is."
"The reason many interruptions seem impossible to ignore is that they are about relationships - someone, or something, is calling out to us. It is why we have such complex emotions about the chaos of the modern office, feeling alternately drained by its demands and exhilarated when we successfully surf the flood."
Interesting to consider how electronic books are incorporating this relationship-oriented attention-demanding phenomenon. Blogs and wikis (new book forms in my opinion) are built through social interaction. And the compulsion to write and/or check a blog is based on a very human craving for feedback and interaction.
"In fairness, I think we bring some of this on ourselves," says Merlin Mann, the founder of the popular life-hacking site 43folders.com. "We'd rather die than be bored for a few minutes, so we just surround ourselves with distractions. We've got 20,000 digital photos instead of 10 we treasure. We have more TV Tivo'd than we'll ever see." In the last year, Mann has embarked on a 12-step-like triage: he canceled his Netflix account, trimmed his instant-messaging "buddy list" so only close friends can contact him and set his e-mail program to bother him only once an hour.
This quote makes me think of Bob's criticism of Steven Johnson's book. Maybe the increasing complexity of media is merely forcing us to develop more sophisticated coping mechanisms, which Johnson is mistaking for smarts. Also makes me think that the orientation of digital media is toward a pack-rat mentality--stockpile everything just because you can. I wonder if this erodes critical faculties and if, in the long run, are we going to treat the stockpile as I did my grandmother's hoarded newspapers--10 years worth piled up in her basement--as garbage. How much of this stuff can we jettison in order to get to what is important?
Linda Stone, the software executive who has worked alongside the C.E.O.'s of both Microsoft and Apple, argues that we have shifted eras in computing. Now that multitasking is driving us crazy, we treasure technologies that protect us...In our new age of overload, the winner is the technology that can hold the world at bay.
Wouldn't it be funny if, say a hundred years from now, when all the books are Googlized and our grand libraries are re-purposed as high-end condominiums, if one of those interruption scientists figures out that the best technology for holding the world at bay is printed on paper and delivered in a nice quiet codex format?
Dale Keiger on October 20, 2005 3:15 PM:
...packrat mentality...stockpile everything just because you can.
When I first bought an iPod, I loaded it with hundreds of songs just because I could. That was the enabled packrat at work. That seemed the point, to me: the iPod let me tote in my jacket pocket 5,000 songs, and what a great thing that was.
Then I entered a discriminatory phase, which I'm still in. The iPod plays maybe 10-15 songs during each leg of my commute. I mentally make note of any song I don't like or that, on closer listening, turns out to be dumb or ill-played or pedestrian, and when I get home I eliminate it from the iPod's drive. And I'm finding this critical process very satisfying. Song-by-song I'm creating an aural library that's exactly as I want it, a library that reveals more about it's librarian every day. That's where I think the technological advance that is the iPod is good. No more CDs in which I deeply value one track, enjoy two others, and are indifferent to the other nine. No more daydreaming through songs I don't care about--just music that matters to my life. I think maybe the hoarding has to come first.
gary frost on October 20, 2005 11:21 PM:
I also imagine the reinvention of print libraries; not to change them but to validate them. And the enthusiasm for digital communications will bring us to re-realizations that we have not had for centuries.
We are advancing into some new bibliometric era which will focus our appreciations of all the parent reading modes and their noisy off-spring.
Andrew Durkin on October 21, 2005 5:35 PM:
In the interest of re-realizing something that occurred to me while reading Dale's comment, I'll point out that the practices that technologies like the iPod and iTunes make perhaps easier and more expansive than ever (i.e., the ability to gradually, critically winnow away at a music collection until you can focus on only the "good stuff") are not in fact new.
Those of us who grew up in the era of cassettes often indulged in the art of the mix tape. In my case, I would cull from multiple sources: LPs checked out from the local library, other cassettes borrowed from friends, radio programs taped wholesale, stuff in my own collection... the goal was always to create a "personal playlist" (spread out over numerous tapes that would be primarily used in the car) so that favorite tunes didn't have to be trapped within (for instance) the predetermined album sequence that had been arbitrarily decided on by some well-meaning producer.
DJs, of course, have always been in the business of selecting and focusing on their favorite tracks (at least when they're allowed to play the music they want to play). More important for this discussion is the fact that for a long time one typically had to be an amateur DJ just to listen to recorded music, because there was no such thing as an album (LPs began to be released commercially in 1948 or so). "Record parties" (in which pre-digital fans of recorded music might gather for an evening to play a steady stream of 45s) were in this sense an early, embodied form of the iTunes playlist feature.
New technologies often help us accomplish a particular practice more effectively, but it's worth remembering that that practice may be something people have done in a more modest, bricolage-esque way for many years prior.