## Listing entries tagged with books

### subtitles and the future of reading  02.22.2006, 6:57 PM

After enduring a weeks-long PR pummeling for its dealings in China, Google is hard at work to improve its image in the world, racking up some points for good after slipping briefly into evil. Recently they launched Google.org: a website for the Google Foundation, the corporation's philanthropic arm and central office of evil mitigation. Paying a visit to the site, the disillusioned among us will be pleased to find that the foundation is already sponsoring a handful of worthy initiatives, along with a grants program that donates free web advertising to nonprofit organizations. And just in case we were concerned that Google might not apply its techno-capitalist wizardry to altruism as zealously as to making profit, they just announced today they've named a new director for the foundation by the name of -- no joke -- Dr. Brilliant. So it seems the world is in capable hands.

One project in particular caught my eye in light of recent discussions about screen-based reading and genre-blending visions of the book. Planet Read is an organization that promotes literacy in India through Same Language Subtitling -- a simple but apparently effective technique for building basic reading skills, taking popular visual entertainment like Bollywood movies and adding subtitles in English and Hindi along the bottom of the screen. A number of samples (sadly no Bollywood, just videos or photo montages set to Indian folk songs) can be found on Google Video. Here's one that I particularly liked:

Watching the video -- managing the interplay between moving text and moving pictures -- I began to wonder whether there are possibly some clues to be mined here about the future of reading. Yes, Planet Read is designed first and foremost to train basic alphabetic literacy, turning a captive audience into a captive classroom. But in doing so, might it not also be nurturing another kind of literacy?

The problem with contemporary discussions about the future of the book is that they are mired -- for cultural and economic reasons -- in a highly inflexible conception of what a book can be. People who grew up with print tend to assume that going digital is simply a matter of switching containers (with a few enhancements thrown in the mix), failing to consider how the actual content of books might change, or how the act of reading -- which increasingly takes place in a dyanamic visual context -- may eventually demand a more dynamic kind of text.

Blurring the lines between text and visual media naturally makes us uneasy because it points to a future that quite literally (for us dinosaurs at least) could be unreadable. But kids growing up today, in India or here in the States, are already highly accustomed to reading in screen-based environments, and so they probably have a somewhat different idea of what reading is. For them, text is likely just one ingredient in a complex combinatory medium.

Another example: Nochnoi Dozor (translated "Night Watch") is a film that has widely been credited as the first Russian blockbuster of the post-Soviet era -- an adrenaline-pumping, special effects-infused, sci-fi vampire epic made entirely by Russians, on Russian soil and on Russian themes (it's based on a popular trilogy of novels). When it was released about a year and a half ago it shattered domestic box office records previously held by Western hits like Titanic and Lord of the Rings. Just about a month ago, the sequel "Day Watch" shattered the records set by "Night Watch."

While highly derivative of western action movies, Nochnoi Dozor is moody, raucous and darkly gorgeous, giving a good, gritty feel of contemporary Moscow. Its plot grows rickety in places, and sometimes things are downright incomprehensible (even, I'm told, with fluent Russian), so I'm skeptical about its prospects on this side of the globe. But goshdarnit, Russians can't seem to get enough of it -- so in an effort to lure American audiences over to this uniquely Russian gothic thriller, start building a brand out of the projected trilogy (and presumably pave the way for the eventual crossover to Hollywood of director Timur Bekmambetov), Fox Searchlight just last week rolled the film out in the U.S. on a very limited release.

What could this possibly have to do with the future of reading? Well, naturally the film is subtitled, and we all know how subtitles are the kiss of death for a film in the U.S. market (Passion of the Christ notwithstanding). But the marketers at Fox are trying something new with Nochnoi Dozor. No, they weren't foolish enough to dub it, which would have robbed the film of the scratchy, smoke-scarred Moscow voices that give it so much of its texture. What they've done is played with the subtitles themselves, making them more active and responsive to the action in the film (sounds like some Flash programmer had a field day...). Here's a description from an article in the NY Times (unfortunately now behind pay wall):

...[the words] change color and position on the screen, simulate dripping blood, stutter in emulation of a fearful query, or dissolve into red vapor to emulate a character's gasping breaths.

And this from Anthony Lane's review in the latest New Yorker:

...the subtitles, for instance, are the best I have encountered. Far from palely loitering at the foot of the screen, they lurk in odd corners of the frame and, at one point, glow scarlet and then spool away, like blood in water. I trust that this will start a technical trend and that, from here on, no respectable French actress will dream of removing her clothes unless at least three lines of dialogue can be made to unwind across her midriff.

It might seem strange to think of subtitling of foreign films as a harbinger of future reading practices. But then, with the increasing popularity of Asian cinema, and continued cross-pollination between comics and film, it's not crazy to suspect that we'll be seeing more of this kind of textual-visual fusion in the future.

Most significant is the idea that the text can itself be an actor in a perfomance: a frontier that has only barely been explored -- though typography enthusiasts will likely pillory me for saying so.

Posted by ben vershbow at 06:57 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
tags: animation , books , cinema , digital_literature , ebooks , film , flash , google , google_video , india , language , literacy , reading , russia , subtitles , translation , typography , video

### the bible on dvd: another weird embodiment of the book on screen  02.19.2006, 5:50 PM

The bible has long been a driver of innovation in book design, and this latest is no exception: an ad I saw today on TV for the complete King James Bible on DVD. Not a film, mind you, but an interactive edition of the old and new testaments built around a graphical rendering of an old bible open on a lectern that the reader, uh viewer, uh... reader controls. Each page is synched up to a full-text narration in the "crystal clear, mellow baritone" of Emmy-winning Bible reader Stephen Johnston, along with assorted other actors and dramatic sound effects bringing the stories to life.

There's the ad to the right (though when I saw it on BET the family was black). You can also download an actual demo (Real format) here. It's interesting to see the interactivity of the DVD used to mimic a physical book -- even the package is designed to suggest the embossed leather of an old bible, opening up to the incongruous sight of a pair of shiny CDs. More than a few analogies could be drawn to the British Library's manuscript-mimicking "Turning the Pages," which Sally profiled here last week, though here the pages replace each other with much less fidelity to the real.

There's no shortage of movie dramatizations aimed at making the bible more accessible to churchgoers and families in the age of TV and the net. What the makers of this DVD seem to have figured out is how to combine the couch potato ritual of television with the much older practice of group scriptural reading. Whether or not you'd prefer to read the bible in this way, with remote control in hand, you can't deny that it keeps the focus on the text.

Last week, Jesse argued that it's not technology that's causing a decline in book-reading, but rather a lack of new technologies that make books readable in the new communications environment. He was talking about books online, but the DVD bible serves just as well to illustrate how a text (a text that, to say the least, is still in high demand) might be repurposed in the context of newer media.

Another great driver of innovation in DVDs: pornography. No other genre has made more creative use of the multiple camera views options that can be offered simulataneously on a single film in the DVD format (I don't have to spell out what for). They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and what greater necessities than sex and god? You won't necessarily find the world's most elegant design, but it's good to keep track of these uniquely high-demand areas as they are consistently ahead of the curve.

Posted by ben vershbow at 05:50 PM | Comments (11)
tags: DVD , The Performing Book , bible , books , christianity , ebook , ebooks , god , interface , literacy , porn , pornography , reading , religion , scripture , television

### who really needs to turn the pages?  02.15.2006, 6:16 PM

The following post comes from my friend Sally Northmore, a writer and designer based in New York who lately has been interested in things like animation, video game theory, and (right up our alley) the materiality of books and their transition to a virtual environment. A couple of weeks ago we were talking about the British Library's rare manuscript digitization project, "Turning the Pages" -- something I'd been meaning to discuss here but never gotten around to doing. It turns out Sally had some interesting thoughts about this so I persuaded her to do a brief write-up of the project for if:book. Which is what follows below. Come to think of it, this is especially interesting when juxtaposed with Bob's post earlier this week on Jefferson Han's amazing gestural interface design. Here's Sally... - Ben

The British Library's collaboration with multimedia impresarios at Armadillo Systems has led to an impressive publishing enterprise, making available electronic 3-D facsimiles of their rare manuscript collection.

"Turning the Pages", available in CD-ROM, online, and kiosk format, presents the digital incarnation of these treasured texts, allowing the reader to virtually "turn" the pages with a touch and drag function, "pore over" texts with a magnification function, and in some cases, access extras such as supplementary notes, textual secrets, and audio accompaniment.

Pages from Mozart's thematic catalogue -- a composition notebook from the last seven years of his life. Allows the reader to listen to works being discussed.

The designers ambitiously mimicked various characteristics of each work in their 3-D computer models. For instance, the shape of a page of velum turning differs from the shape of a page of paper. It falls at a unique speed according to its weight; it casts a unique shadow. The simulation even allows for a discrepancy in how a page would turn depending on what corner of the page you decide to peel from.

Online visitors can download a library of manuscripts in Shockwave although these versions are a bit clunkier and don't provide the flashier thrills of the enormous touch screen kiosks the British Library now houses.

Mercator's first atlas of Europe - 1570s

Online, the "Turning the Pages" application forces you to adapt to the nature of its embodiment—to physically re-learn how to use a book. A hand cursor invites the reader to turn each page with a click-and-drag maneuver of the mouse. Sounds simple enough, but I struggled to get the momentum of the drag just right so that the page actually turned. In a few failed attempts, the page lifted just so... only to fall back into place again. Apparently, if you can master the Carpal Tunnel-inducing rhythm, you can learn to manipulate the page-turning function even further, grabbing multiple of pages at once for a faster, abridged read.

The value of providing high resolution scans of rare editions of texts for the general public to experience, a public that otherwise wouldn't necessarily ever "touch" say, the Lindisfarne Gospels, doesn’t go without kudos. Hey, democratic right? Armadillo Systems provides a list of compelling raisons d'être on their site to this effect. But the content of these texts is already available in reprintable (democratic!) form. Is the virtual page-turning function really necessary for greater understanding of these works, or a game of academic scratch-n-sniff?

The "enlarge" function even allows readers to reverse the famous mirror writing in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks

At the MLA conference in D.C. this past December, where the British Library had set up a demonstration of "Turning the Pages", this was the question most frequently asked of the BL's representative. Who really needs to turn the pages? I learned from the rep's response that, well, nobody does! Scholars are typically more interested studying the page, and the turning function hasn't proven to enhance or revive scholarly exploration. And surely, the Library enjoyed plenty of biblio-clout and tourist traffic before this program?

But the lure of new, sexy technology can't be underestimated. From what I understood, the techno-factor is an excellent beacon for attracting investors and funding in multimedia technology. Armadillo's web site provides an interesting sales pitch:

The program reveals itself to be a peculiar exercise, tangled in its insistence on fetishizing aspects of the material body of the text—the weight of velum, the karat of gold used to illuminate, the shape of the binding. Such detail and love for each material manuscript went into this project to recreate, as best possible, the "feel" of handling these manuscripts.

Under ideal circumstances, what would the minds behind "Turning the Pages" prefer to create? The original form of the text—the "alpha" manuscript—or the virtual incarnation? Does technological advancement seduce us into valuing the near-perfect simulation over the original? Are we more impressed by the clone, the "Dolly" of hoary manuscripts? And, would one argue that "Turning the Pages" is the best proxy for the real thing, or, another “thing” entirely?

Posted by sally northmore at 06:16 PM | Comments (5)
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , book_craft , books , design , design_curmudgeonry , digitization , interface , library , manuscript , museum , preservation , reading , turning_the_pages , user_interface

### DRM and the damage done to libraries  02.06.2006, 7:51 AM

New York Public Library

A recent BBC article draws attention to widespread concerns among UK librarians (concerns I know are shared by librarians and educators on this side of the Atlantic) regarding the potentially disastrous impact of digital rights management on the long-term viability of electronic collections. At present, when downloads represent only a tiny fraction of most libraries' circulation, DRM is more of a nuisance than a threat. At the New York Public library, for instance, only one "copy" of each downloadable ebook or audio book title can be "checked out" at a time -- a frustrating policy that all but cancels out the value of its modest digital collection. But the implications further down the road, when an increasing portion of library holdings will be non-physical, are far more grave.

What these restrictions in effect do is place locks on books, journals and other publications -- locks for which there are generally no keys. What happens, for example, when a work passes into the public domain but its code restrictions remain intact? Or when materials must be converted to newer formats but can't be extracted from their original files? The question we must ask is: how can librarians, now or in the future, be expected to effectively manage, preserve and update their collections in such straightjacketed conditions?

This is another example of how the prevailing copyright fundamentalism threatens to constrict the flow and preservation of knowledge for future generations. I say "fundamentalism" because the current copyright regime in this country is radical and unprecedented in its scope, yet traces its roots back to the initially sound concept of limited intellectual property rights as an incentive to production, which, in turn, stemmed from the Enlightenment idea of an author's natural rights. What was originally granted (hesitantly) as a temporary, statutory limitation on the public domain has spun out of control into a full-blown culture of intellectual control that chokes the flow of ideas through society -- the very thing copyright was supposed to promote in the first place.

If we don't come to our senses, we seem destined for a new dark age where every utterance must be sanctioned by some rights holder or licensing agent. Free thought isn't possible, after all, when every thought is taxed. In his "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" Kant condemns as criminal any contract that compromises the potential of future generations to advance their knowledge. He's talking about the church, but this can just as easily be applied to the information monopolists of our times and their new tool, DRM, which, in its insidious way, is a kind of contract (though one that is by definition non-negotiable since enforced by a machine):

But would a society of pastors, perhaps a church assembly or venerable presbytery (as those among the Dutch call themselves), not be justified in binding itself by oath to a certain unalterable symbol in order to secure a constant guardianship over each of its members and through them over the people, and this for all time: I say that this is wholly impossible. Such a contract, whose intention is to preclude forever all further enlightenment of the human race, is absolutely null and void, even if it should be ratified by the supreme power, by parliaments, and by the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot bind itself, and thus conspire, to place a succeeding one in a condition whereby it would be impossible for the later age to expand its knowledge (particularly where it is so very important), to rid itself of errors, and generally to increase its enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature, whose essential destiny lies precisely in such progress; subsequent generations are thus completely justified in dismissing such agreements as unauthorized and criminal.

We can only hope that subsequent generations prove more enlightened than those presently in charge.

### GAM3R 7H30RY: a work in progress... in progress  02.02.2006, 12:35 PM

McKenzie Wark

I'm pleased to report that the institute is gearing up for another book-blog experiment to run alongside Mitchell Stephens' ongoing endeavor at Without Gods -- this one a collaboration with McKenzie Wark, professor of cultural and media studies at the New School and author most recently of A Hacker Manifesto. Ken's next book, Gamer Theory, is an examination of single-player video games that comes out of the analytic tradition of the Frankfurt School (among other influences). Unlike Mitch's project (a history of atheism), Ken's book is already written -- or a draft of it anyway -- so in putting together a public portal, we are faced with a very different set of challenges.

As with Hacker Manifesto, Ken has written Gamer Theory in numbered paragraphs, a modular structure that makes the text highly adaptable to different formats and distribution schemes -- be it RSS syndication, ebook, or print copy. We thought the obvious thing to do, then, would be to release the book serially, chunk by chunk, and to gather commentary and feedback from readers as it progressed. The trouble is that if you do only this -- that is, syndicate the book and gather feedback -- you forfeit the possibility of a more free-flowing discussion, which could end up being just as valuable (or more) as the direct critique of the book. After all, the point of this experiment is to expose the book to the collective knowledge, experience and multiple viewpoints of the network. If new ideas are to be brought to light, then there ought to be ways for readers to contribute, not just in direct response to material the author has put forth, but in their own terms (this returns us to the tricky proprietary nature of blogs that Dan discussed on Monday).

So for the past couple of weeks, we've been hashing out a fairly ambitious design for a web site -- a blog, but a little more complicated -- that attempts to solve (or at least begin to solve) some of the problems outlined above. Our first aim was to infuse the single-author book/blog with the democratic, free-fire discussion of list servers -- a feat, of course, that is far easier said than done. Another concern, simply from an interface standpoint, was to find ways of organizing the real estate of the screen that are more intuitive for reading.

Another thing we've lamented about blogs, and web sites in general, is their overwhelming verticality. Vertical scrolling fields -- an artifact of supercomputer terminals and the long spools of code they spit out -- are taken for granted as the standard way to read online. But nowhere was this ordained as the ideal interface -- in fact it is designed more for machines than for humans, yet humans are the users on the front end. Text does admittedly flow down, but we read left to right, and its easier to move your eye across a text that is fixed than one that is constantly moving. A site we've often admired is The International Herald Tribune, which arranges its articles in elegant, fixed plates that flip horizontally from one to the next. With these things in mind, we set it as a challenge for ourselves to try for some kind of horizontally oriented design for Ken's blog.

There's been a fairly rigorous back and forth on email over the past two weeks in which we've wrestled with these questions, and in the interest of working in the open, we've posted the exchange below (most of it anyway) with the thought that it might actually shed some light on what happens -- from design and conceptual standpoints -- when you try to mash up two inherently different forms, the blog and the book. Jesse has been the main creative force behind the design, and he's put together a lovely annotated page explaining the various mockups we've developed over the past week. If you read the emails (which are can be found directly below this paragraph) you will see that we are still very much in the midst of figuring this out. Feedback would be much appreciated. (See also GAM3R 7H30RY: part 2).

This exchange began after a week of sketching and discussion following an initial brainstorm session with Ken in mid-January...

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 3:45 PM

Ben Vershbow
To: Ken Wark
Cc: Bob Stein, Jesse Wilbur
Subject: a start

Hi Ken,

So here's the challenge as we see it.

We need to create a single site that:

- combines the best of blogs with the best of list-servers
- is structured to progressively reveal the draft of a book and gather commentary

I'm pleased to report that we've cooked up something that comes pretty close -- a Word Press blog re-jiggered to solve all the world's ills. You can view an html mock-up here:

(wide screenshot of the initial HTML mockup - eventually rejected)

Rather than explain how it works, why don't you just take a look and see how clearly things come across. Not quite everything is there yet, and obviously, it hasn't been tied in to Word Press yet, which will be a bit tricky. But we're pretty confident we can get it to work (when I say we, I mean Jesse, who is the one responsible for building this and who put together the lovely mock-up).

Keep in mind that this is only a sketch and that everything is negotiable. But I think this is a good start.

Let us know how this strikes you fire away with questions.

Best,
Ben et al.

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 3:51 PM

Ken Wark
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start

a really impressive start. I kinda imagined it going left to right,
rather than right to left. I think it should also have a sort of free
fire zone where people can comment and discuss without it being tied to particular parts of the book.

In place of the proprietary Mario image, may be a space invader.

(hence:
)

k

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 3:52 PM

Ken Wark
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start

-- and if the columns could be a bit wider or the text a bit more
compressed (less leading, maybe) to try and get the whole paragraph on
the screen. The longest are 250 words (or if they're not, i'm cutting
them down).

... if i wanted to update the text, how could that work?

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 4:22 PM

Ben Vershbow
To: Ken Wark
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start

Ken said:

>I kinda imagined it going left to right, rather than right to left.

We debated the left-right right-left thing. The problem with left to right is that the more of the book you release, the further down (or over, I should say) the new paragraphs are. Our thought was that it's better to have the most recent first, as in a normal blog, in the interest of keeping the thing as a living exchange. You don't want readers to have to do tons of scrolling to get to the latest installment. It's reverse linear, I realize, but the book hieararchy to the side will allow readers to see an archive view of the book that goes 1-200 in the proper order. There are ways we could make that clearer, like inviting visitors to "read from the beginning" or something.

Ken said:
>I think it should also have a sort of free fire zone where people can comment and discuss without it being tied to particular parts of the book.

This is certainly something we should consider. You'll notice that the "binary thinking for humans" post was made by another user. This is our gesture toward the democracy of list-serves. We figure that there are three ways a user can interact with this site:

1. They simply read it (and later are moved to buy your book, or change the world)
3. They read it, sometimes post comments, and even sometimes post top-level threads (like the "binary thinking" one).

1 and 2 are obviously open and unrestricted (though we might need some moderation once the spammers find us). Number 3, however, would require a guest account, so we're working out a way to allow users to create logins. In the spirit of the game, they would be allowed to choose an icon from classic game culture (that's just something we're toying with, let us know what you think). Mario for you was a purely arbitrary choice. You can be a space invader, Metroid, Yoshi or whoever.

Anyway, this allows people to start threads of their own, though they are, as you point out, interspersed within the set structure of the book according to the time they were posted. If you want something that is freer of the book's structure, we would need something like a free fire zone.

>-- and if the columns could be a bit wider or the text a bit more
>compressed (less leading, maybe) to try and get the whole paragraph
>on the screen. The longest are 250 words (or if they're not, i'm
>cutting them down).
>
>... if i wanted to update the text, how could that work?

We can certainly tweak the formatting. Our goal is to have two full sections visible and a third cut off, giving the visual clue that there is more content to the side.

As for updating text, that's a very good question. Jesse, any ideas?

We could color code additions and deletions - like a track changes function. We could also work revised paragraphs into the main stream, though this could quickly get confusing. If you see 84, 83, some dude's post, 82, then 41 with all kinds of markings on it, then 81, it might be a little disorienting.

Anyway, let's keep talking this through. Remember to copy everyone so we're all part of the discussion.

- Ben

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 5:08 PM

Jesse Wilbur
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Ken Wark, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start

Ken,

I think coded additions and deletions are probably the best way to
handle, for the reasons that ben noted. Getting that info into the
stream of the posts does pose a little bit of a problem. My first
reaction is to have some area of the screen dedicated to the "latest
updates" which would be unrestricted to the flow of the chapters.
Possibly in the upper right corner, as a list of small text links.

To help get all of a paragraph on the screen, I can 1) reduce the
leading, 2) move the icon to the left hand side, return address style.
It will still serve the purpose of visually marking a post as belonging to a particular author, but reduce some of the stacking.

-jdw

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 5:28 PM

Ben Vershbow
To: Jesse Wilbur
Cc: Ken Wark, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start

The question of revisions is important and very tricky. Tracking changes would have to be done by hand, which could get burdensome. Ideally, each entry would have a revision history. But that's simply not something Word Press is built to do. We'll look into ways that we can mess with it, but we're pushing it nearly to breaking point as it is.

There's also the question of how soon we want to get this thing up. I say the sooner the better (initially I was thinking in the next two weeks), but if we want to get revisions right, it might take longer.

We're going to confer on this and weigh our options.

We'll be at a conference tomorrow so may have less time to work on this. But let's keep talking about anything and everything we want to add/remove/change on the current design.

- Ben

Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 7:32 PM

Ken Wark
To: Ben Vershbow, Jesse Wilbur
Cc: Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start

revisions need not be a big deal. It would be useful to be able to take a chunk of text out and put another one in. That the pars are numbered makes that easy.

k

We then hunkered down for the next few days and came up with some new mockups.

Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 2:02 PM

Ben Vershbow
To: Ken Wark, Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Site Draft(s) 2

Hi Ken,

So we've made a second stab at a design. Several stabs, actually, which leaves us a little more confused than before, but I think productively confused. I do believe we're getting somewhere.

Go to http://www.futureofthebook.org/mckenziewark and you will see a menu of three new mockups (just graphics, not interactive). Three and a half, to be precise (one of them has two views). These are rough, and are missing some important elements, but we wanted to keep you in on the discussion. So here they are, warts and all.

But before you look at these sketches, I'll briefly summarize how we got from what we had the other day to what we have today. So. The initial design had two major problems. One you pointed out, namely that the interspersing of visitor posts among book paragraphs (a bloggish gesture toward the democracy of list servers) did not meaningfully subtract from the primacy of the author in the flow of discussion. This was problem number one, and it led us to give up on trying to fully integrate free-fire discussion with the syndicated book. After all, this project is inescapably about the primacy of the author. Sure, we're poking at it, gently undermining it -- suggesting that a book is as much about process as product -- but it's still your book, your name. We decided that the design should embrace this fact, while also providing alternative venues for more equitable exchange.

The second problem was one we realized only after getting over the "oh, how cool this looks" stage of analysis, namely that horizontal scrolling, lovely as it is, runs into difficulties when you are working with such a large amount of content, much of it coming in at inpredictable intervals and in varying amounts (i.e. comments). It's a question of real estate. We have only so much space on the screen (keeping in mind the smallest standard browser window) and since we want comments to be visible in the main view, we've got an awful lot of material to get organized. If you look at the original mockup, you'll see how this necessitates a combination of vertical and horizontal scrolling. The result is that when you come to the page, instead of a clearly defined website, you see something that looks more like the upper-left corner of a map -- not well formatted for a browser. Seeing as the browser is the reading tool of choice, this won't do at all.

Having both horizontal and vertical scrolling emphasizes the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. The Herald Tribune site works nicely because it is dealing with set amounts of text that it can flow cleanly into successive horizontal plates. If we were dealing only with the book, sans comments or discussion, we could do something similarly elegant. But there are more variables in play here, and like it or not, a dynamic work such as this, given the tools currently available, strongly tends toward a vertical display.

(first mockup graphic)

(second mockup graphic)

The second mockup keeps the comments to the right, but arranges them vertically. This isn't so bad, except that when you have a lot of comments, and you open them up, it starts to seriously push the next post down, which looks awkward. But maybe this is not such a problem.

(third mockup graphic)

The third reflects our attempt to keep the free-fire discussion on the main page next to the book flow. The problem with this is that, though the two streams are clearly related, there is no mechanism provided with which to draw specific connection points. In other words, this design implicitly promises something it cannot deliver, and will come off seeming arbitrary and not well thought out.

The other big thing to throw into the mix, but which is not yet reflected in these sketches, is the question of versioning. We've figured out some reasonably simple ways to incorporate versioning into the design and feel that, given the goals of the project, this is one of the most important ingredients to include. The kind of versioning we're imagining would include a sort of "track changes" function and would automatically archive all past incarnations of a paragraph.

So to sum up, I think what we're moving toward is something that combines elements of all three sketches and throws in the element of versioning. We may have to let go of the idea of horizontal scrolling, but we're confident that we'll still be presenting comments in an interesting way. The free-fire discussion element will be there, but in a different space, yet we will advertise it prominently on the front page and try to find a simple but effective way to connect it to the book-centered comments.

And having said all that (sorry it was so long-winded), we'd like to hear from you which, among the elements we've laid out, you think are most important to include in the final design, and in what proportions. What works and what doesn't work? What are things we are obsessing about that need not be obsessed about? What are things we're still missing?

With a little more work, I think we can have something ready to go in the next week or two.

- Ben

Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 2:19 PM

Ken Wark
To: Bob Stein, Ben Vershbow, Jesse Wilbur
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2

wow, that's a lot to think about, but its an interesting set of
problems. I'll have a think about it, but maybe it would be best to meet
and kick it around. How's Friday?

k

Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 2:48 PM

Ben Vershbow
To: Ken Wark, Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2

Meeting face to face is a good idea and Friday works well.

Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 3:26 PM
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2

Ben Vershbow
To: Ken Wark
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein

Hey Ken,

One other thing...

Here at the institute we're generally trying to find ways we can do our work more in the open, and thinking about it, our email exchange about the site design have actually turned out to be pretty interesting, maybe even interesting enough for people to want to read them on our blog.

This project poses some big questions about the work of ideas in the network of ideas, and our little back-and-forth is turning into an intriguing little document at the intersection of theory and practice.

How would you feel about us posting it?

- Ben

Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 4:16 PM

Ken Wark
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2

sure, let's start a public thread on it

i'm starting to wonder if it ought not to feature the book too centrally at all. What if the front of the site was about the games that the book is about? (I've pasted in the contents below). The architecture for commenting on the book could be a layer, but in front of that could be a more conventional set of forums about particular games.

Allegory (on The Sims) 25
America (on Civilization III) 47
Analog (on Katamari Damarcy) 66
Atopia (on Vice City) 83
Battle (on Rez) 104
Boredom (on State of Emergency) 124
Complex (on Deus Ex) 147
Conclusions (on SimEarth) 162

see you fri

k

...which just about brings us up to the present moment. If you have any thoughts/questions/comments, we're all ears.

Posted by ben vershbow at 12:35 PM | Comments (5)
tags: Games , blogging , blogs , book-blog_experiments , books , design , frankfurt_school , gaming , hacker , interface , marx , mckenzie_wark , philosophy , reading , video_games , writing

This is a bilingual (English/Spanish) post. Spanish version can be found lower down.

Santofile, uses "meme" to allude to creative freedom in the digital world. Meme is mimesis and is self-generating. It refers to mediation in the sense of remix and appropriation, to the mixing of works that circulate in the Internet in order to produce an original piece. Among Santofile's projects is X_Reloaded, an interpretation of the first chapter of Don Quixote, compiled from disparate works inspired by the fourth centennial of its publication.

They put together such diverse creators as William Burroughs and Adbusters, whose common context is precisely the idea of busting. Busting decontextualizes a piece (work of art, advertisement, text) causing it to lose its character as a static icon by giving it a new life inside a new context.

To choose Don Quixote as the text for X_Reloaded, is an allusion to the concept of remix per excellence. Cervantes appropriated chivalry novels with the intention to subvert the genre, and his final remix, decontextualized, is a unique and original work. Printing itself in Cervantes' times required a highly legible copy, which wasn't necessarily the original manuscript. Thus, the "original" was a copy made by one or more amanuenses. And from this "original" corrected by the author, a sort of predecessor of proofreading, the book was put together by the typesetter, with its consequent errata. It is interesting to note that the Spanish Royal Academy's edition of Don Quixote, that celebrates its fourth centennial, claims to be based on about a hundred editions, old and new. If this is not remix, what is?

Cervantes himself is absolutely aware of what he is doing, and of the subversive character of his action. When Don Quixote reads, we don't know who is the madman, him or the one who wrote this:

The reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your beauty.

Don Quixote changed forever the way novels were written, and three centuries later, Borges' "Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote" would change forever the way one reads. Pierre Menard writes Don Quixote without ceasing to be Pierre Menard, demonstrating how it is possible to transform a text without altering a single word. Decontextualization was inaugurated.

Following that tradition, X_Loaded presents us jodi's map, images like, Olia Lialina's, the conceptual text of Jennny Holzer, or Rosa Llop's windmills.

With her windmills we have to say with Don Quixote, they are indeed giants.

Santofile, usa el concepto de meme para aludir a libertad de creación en el mundo digital. Meme es mimesis y es autogenerador. Se refiere a mediación, en el sentido de remix, de mezclar apropiándose de trabajos de otros, generalmente trabajo digital que circula por la red, para a la vez producir una nueva obra original. Entre sus proyectos está X_Reloaded una interpretación del capítulo primero de El Quijote, que recoge obras dispares inspiradas por el cuarto centenario de su publicación.,

Se reúnen creadores tan disímiles como William Burroughs y Adbusters, cuyo contexto común sería precisamente la idea de romper, de volver trizas, que está en el seno mismo del verbo "to bust". Al descontextualizar lo que se quiere romper, se le roba permanencia como ícono estático y se le confiere nueva vida dentro de un nuevo contexto.

El escoger precisamente El Quijote como texto para X_Reloaded, es aludir al remix por excelencia. Cervantes se apropia de las novelas de caballería para subvertir el génro, y su remix final, al descontextualizarlas, es una obra única y original. La impresión misma del texto en tiempos de Cervantes, requería de una copia altamente legible, lo que no necesariamente era el manuscrito original. De ahí que el "original" eran una copia hecha por uno o más amanuenses. Y de ese "original"corregido por el autor, salía el libro, armado por el cajista, con sus consiguientes errores. Es interesante notar que la edición de la Real Academia Española, con motivo del cuarto centenario de El Quijote, es un "texto crítico de la obra constituido sobre la consulta de cerca de un centenar de ediciones antiguas y modernas". Si esto no es remix, ¿qué es?

Cervantes mismo es absolutamente consciente de lo que está haciendo, y del carácter subversivo de su acción. Cuando Don Qujiote lee no sabemos si es él el loco, o el que escribió esto:

La razón de la sinrazón que a mi razón se hace, de tal manera mi razón enflaquece, que con razón me quejo de la vuestra fermosura

El Quijote va a cambiar para siempre la manera como se escribe y tres siglos más tarde, "Pierre Menard autor del Quijote" de Borges, va a cambiar la manera como se lee. Pierre Menard escribe El Quijote sin dejar de ser Pierre Menard, demostrando cómo se transforma un texto sin cambiarlo, inaugurando la descontextualización.

Siguiendo esta tradición, X_Loaded nos presenta el mapa de jodi, imágenes como la de, Olia Lialina', el texto conceptual de Jennny Holzer, o los molinos de viento de Rosa Llop'. Y con ellos, tenemos que decir con Don Quijote, los molinos son en verdad gigantes. Rosa Llop. Y con ellos, tenemos que decir con Don Quijote, los molinos son en verdad gigantes.

Posted by sol gaitan at 04:43 PM | Comments (1)
tags: Remix , art , bilingual , books , cervantes , decontextualization , don_quixote , literature , logo , net_art , spanish , windmill

### the book is reading you  01.19.2006, 1:42 PM

I just noticed that Google Book Search requires users to be logged in on a Google account to view pages of copyrighted works.

They provide the following explanation:

Because many of the books in Google Book Search are still under copyright, we limit the amount of a book that a user can see. In order to enforce these limits, we make some pages available only after you log in to an existing Google Account (such as a Gmail account) or create a new one. The aim of Google Book Search is to help you discover books, not read them cover to cover, so you may not be able to see every page you're interested in.

So they're tracking how much we've looked at and capping our number of page views. Presumably a bone tossed to publishers, who I'm sure will continue suing Google all the same (more on this here). There's also the possibility that publishers have requested information on who's looking at their books -- geographical breakdowns and stats on click-throughs to retailers and libraries. I doubt, though, that Google would share this sort of user data. Substantial privacy issues aside, that's valuable information they want to keep for themselves.

That's because "the aim of Google Book Search" is also to discover who you are. It's capturing your clickstreams, analyzing what you've searched and the terms you've used to get there. The book is reading you. Substantial privacy issues aside, (it seems more and more that's where we'll be leaving them) Google will use this data to refine Google's search algorithms and, who knows, might even develop some sort of personalized recommendation system similar to Amazon's -- you know, where the computer lists other titles that might interest you based on what you've read, bought or browsed in the past (a system that works only if you are logged in). It's possible Google is thinking of Book Search as the cornerstone of a larger venture that could compete with Amazon.

There are many ways Google could eventually capitalize on its books database -- that is, beyond the contextual advertising that is currently its main source of revenue. It might turn the scanned texts into readable editions, hammer out licensing agreements with publishers, and become the world's biggest ebook store. It could start a print-on-demand service -- a Xerox machine on steroids (and the return of Google Print?). It could work out deals with publishers to sell access to complete online editions -- a searchable text to go along with the physical book -- as Amazon announced it will do with its Upgrade service. Or it could start selling sections of books -- individual pages, chapters etc. -- as Amazon has also planned to do with its Pages program.

Amazon has long served as a valuable research tool for books in print, so much so that some university library systems are now emulating it. Recent additions to the Search Inside the Book program such as concordances, interlinked citations, and statistically improbable phrases (where distinctive terms in the book act as machine-generated tags) are especially fun to play with. Although first and foremost a retailer, Amazon feels more and more like a search system every day (and its A9 engine, though seemingly always on the back burner, is also developing some interesting features). On the flip side Google, though a search system, could start feeling more like a retailer. In either case, you'll have to log in first.

### exploring the book-blog nexus  01.07.2006, 8:36 AM

It appears that Amazon is going to start hosting blogs for authors. Sort of. Amazon Connect, a new free service designed to boost sales and readership, will host what are essentially stripped-down blogs where registered authors can post announcements, news and general musings. Eventually, customers can keep track of individual writers by subscribing to bulletins that collect in an aggregated "plog" stream on their Amazon home page. But comments and RSS feeds -- two of the most popular features of blogs -- will not be supported. Engagement with readers will be strictly one-way, and connection to the larger blogosphere basically nil. A missed opportunity if you ask me.

Then again, Amazon probably figured it would be a misapplication of resources to establish a whole new province of blogland. This is more like the special events department of a book store -- arranging readings, book singings and the like. There has on occasion, however, been some entertaining author-public interaction in Amazon's reader reviews, most famously Anne Rice's lashing out at readers for their chilly reception of her novel Blood Canticle (link - scroll down to first review). But evidently Connect blogs are not aimed at sparking this sort of exchange. Genuine literary commotion will have to occur in the nooks and crannies of Amazon's architecture.

It's interesting, though, to see this happening just as our own book-blog experiment, Without Gods, is getting underway. Over the past few weeks, Mitchell Stephens has been writing a blog (hosted by the institute) as a way of publicly stoking the fire of his latest book project, a narrative history of atheism to be published next year by Carroll and Graf. While Amazon's blogs are mainly for PR purposes, our project seeks to foster a more substantive relationship between Mitch and his readers (though, naturally, Mitch and his publisher hope it will have a favorable effect on sales as well). We announced Without Gods a little over two weeks ago and already it has collected well over 100 comments, a high percentage of which are thoughtful and useful.

We are curious to learn how blogging will impact the process of writing the book. By working partially in the open, Mitch in effect raises the stakes of his research -- assumptions will be challenged and theses tested. Our hunch isn't so much that this procedure would be ideal for all books or authors, but that for certain ones it might yield some tangible benefit, whether due to the nature or breadth of their subject, the stage they're at in their thinking, or simply a desire to try something new.

An example. This past week, Mitch posted a very thinking-out-loud sort of entry on "a positive idea of atheism" in which he wrestles with Nietzsche and the concepts of void and nothingness. This led to a brief exchange in the comment stream where a reader recommended that Mitch investigate the writings of Gora, a self-avowed atheist and figure in the Indian independence movement in the 30s. Apparently, Gora wrote what sounds like a very intriguing memoir of his meeting with Gandhi (whom he greatly admired) and his various struggles with the religious component of the great leader's philosophy. Mitch had not previously been acquainted with Gora or his writings, but thanks to the blog and the community that has begun to form around it, he now knows to take a look.

What's more, Mitch is currently traveling in India, so this could not have come at a more appropriate time. It's possible that the commenter had noted this from a previous post, which may have helped trigger the Gora association in his mind. Regardless, these are the sorts of the serendipitous discoveries one craves while writing book. I'm thrilled to see the blog making connections where none previously existed.

Posted by ben vershbow at 08:36 AM | Comments (3)
tags: Blogosphere , Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , amazon , amazon_connect , atheism , blogging , blogs , book-blog_experiments , books , god , publishing , religion , writing

### new mission statement  01.02.2006, 4:30 PM

the institute is a bit over a year old now. our understanding of what we're doing has deepened considerably during the year, so we thought it was time for a serious re-statement of our goals. here's a draft for a new mission statement. we're confident that your input can make it better, so please send your ideas and criticisms.

OVERVIEW
The Institute for the Future of the Book is a project of the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC. Starting with the assumption that the locus of intellectual discourse is shifting from printed page to networked screen, the primary goal of the Institute is to explore, understand and hopefully influence this evolution.

THE BOOK
We use the word "book" metaphorically. For the past several hundred years, humans have used print to move big ideas across time and space for the purpose of carrying on conversations about important subjects. Radio, movies, TV emerged in the last century and now with the advent of computers we are combining media to forge new forms of expression. For now, we use "book" to convey the past, the present transformation, and a number of possible futures.

THE WORK & THE NETWORK
One major consequence of the shift to digital is the addition of graphical, audio, and video elements to the written word. More profound, however, are the consequences of the relocation of the book within the network. We are transforming books from bounded objects to documents that evolve over time, bringing about fundamental changes in our concepts of reading and writing, as well as the role of author and reader.

SHORT TERM/LONG TERM
The Institute values theory and practice equally. Part of our work involves doing what we can with the tools at hand (short term). Examples include last year's Gates Memory Project or the new author's thinking-out-loud blogging effort. Part of our work involves trying to build new tools and effecting industry wide change (medium term): see the Sophie Project and Next\Text. And a significant part of our work involves blue-sky thinking about what might be possible someday, somehow (long term). Our blog, if:book covers the full-range of our interests.

CREATING TOOLS
As part of the Mellon Foundation's project to develop an open-source digital infrastructure for higher education, the Institute is building Sophie, a set of high-end tools for writing and reading rich media electronic documents. Our goal is to enable anyone to assemble complex, elegant, and robust documents without the necessity of mastering overly complicated applications or the help of programmers.

NEW FORMS, NEW PROCESSES
Academic institutes arose in the age of print, which informed the structure and rhythm of their work. The Institute for the Future of the Book was born in the digital era, and we seek to conduct our work in ways appropriate to the emerging modes of communication and rhythms of the networked world. Freed from the traditional print publishing cycles and hierarchies of authority, the Institute seeks to conduct its activities as much as possible in the open and in real time.

HUMANISM & TECHNOLOGY
Although we are excited about the potential of digital technologies to amplify human potential in wondrous ways, we believe it is crucial to consciously consider the social impact of the long-term changes to society afforded by new technologies.

BEYOND BORDERS
Although the institute is based in the U.S. we take the seriously the potential of the internet and digital media to transcend borders. We think it's important to pay attention to developments all over the world, recognizing that the future of the book will likely be determined as much by Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Mumbai and Accra as by New York and Los Angeles.

Posted by bob stein at 04:30 PM | Comments (3)
tags: books , digital , institute , internet , publishing , technology

### if:book's first year  12.31.2005, 3:16 PM

I spent several hours last night and this morning looking over all the posts since we started if:book last december. It's been a remarkably interesting experience working with my colleagues, exploring and defining the boundaries of our interests and effort. Here are a few posts i picked out for one reason or another. On monday we'll post a new revised mission statement for the institute .

1. Three Books That Influenced Your Worldview: The List
we launched the site with the results of our first though experiment in which we asked people to name the three books that most influenced their world view. the results were very interesting. check out the exchange with Alan Kay too.

2. networked book/book as network
kim wrote this first if:book post which mentioned the concept of a "networked book" — a subject that we keep coming back to and find increasingly exciting.

3. genre-busting books
sol gaitan was our most frequent guest blogger. the breadth of her cultural knowledge and her constant reminder that the boundaries of our world extend beyond the hyper-connected coasts of the U.S. are a crucial and welcome contribution.

4. from the nouveau roman to the nouveau romance
one of a dozen or so long posts from Dan who took a seemingly obscure subject and wove it into a deliciously interesting discussion completely relevant to our effort to understand the shifting landscape of intellectual discourse. a more recent one

5. contagious media: symptom of what's to come?
first time we experimented with making our work open and transparent. this idea grew over time and is now in the draft of our new mission statement which says, Academic institutes arose in the age of print, which informed the structure and rhythm of their work. The Institute for the Future of the Book was born in the digital era, and we seek to conduct our work in ways appropriate to the emerging modes of communication and rhythms of the networked world. Freed from the traditional print publishing cycles and hierarchies of authority, the Institute seeks to conduct its activities as much as possible in the open and in real time.

6. ted nelson & the ideologies of documents
a brilliant post by Dan about the importance of (much-maligned visionary) Ted Nelson's views on the way we choose to structure and represent knowledge.

7. it seems to be happening before our eyes, Pt 1 and Pt2
2005 is likely to be remembered as the year that we started to pay more attention to individual voices in the blogosphere than the mainstream media. The NY Times and Washington Post may never recover from the exposures that showed they were in cahoots with the Bush administration over Plamegate and the admission of wholesale unauthorized wire-tapping.

8. blog reading: what's left behind
dan wrote this post about the deficiencies of the structure of blogs. it's a recurring theme at the institute and you'll see a lot more about it in the coming year.

9. transliteracies: research in the technological, social, & cultural practices of online reading
ben re-posted this interesting discussion by Alan Liu on the changing nature of reading and browsing in an online context.

10. flushing the net down the tubes
ben's first post on the crucial subject of the coming battle in which the telcos and cable companies will try to turn the web into a broadcast medium favoring the big media companies over individual voices.

11. sober thoughts on google: privatization and privacy
thanks to ben's thougtful posts, the institute has gained a reputation for developing an even-handed view of Google book scanning and searching project.

12. the "talk to me" crew talks with the institute
now that we've got our cool new offices in williamsburg (brooklyn), we've been inviting an interesting group of folks to lunch. Liz and Bill were two of our favorite visitors, written up in a nice post by Ray. Other interesting visitors were Ken Wark, Tom De Zengotita and Mitchelll Stephens.

13. the future of the book: korea, 13th century
couldn't resist including ben's write-up to a buddhist monastery in korea — both because it has the most beautiful photo that appeared in the blog and for one of my favorite images . . . the whole monastery a kind of computer, the monks running routines to and from the database.

Posted by bob stein at 03:16 PM | Comments (1)
tags: 2005 , Blogosphere , blogging , books , ebooks

### bookcrossing.com and the future of the book  12.27.2005, 12:39 PM

I came across an an interesting overview piece on the future of the book in Global Politician, an online magazine that largely focuses on reporting underreported global issue stories. The author of the piece, economist and political consultant Sam Vaknin, covers much of the terrain we usually cover here at the Institute, but he also make an interesting point about how the online book-swapping collective Bookcrossing has been turning paper books into "networked books" over the past four years. Vaknin writes:

Members of the BookCrossing.com community register their books in a central database, obtain a BCID (BookCrossing ID Number) and then give the book to someone, or simply leave it lying around to be found. The volume's successive owners provide BookCrossing with their coordinates. This innocuous model subverts the legal concept of ownership and transforms the book from a passive, inert object into a catalyst of human interactions. In other words, it returns the book to its origins: a dialog-provoking time capsule.

I appreciate the fact that Vaknin draws attention to the ways in which books can be conceptually transformed by ventures such as BookCrossing even while they remain physically unchanged. Currently, there are only about half a million BookCrossing members, making the phenemenon somewhat less popular than podcasting, but given that most BookCrossing members are serious readers — and highly international — the movement is still noteworthy.

Posted by lisa lynch at 12:39 PM | Comments (4)
tags: Bookcrossing , book , books , networked

### the future of the book: korea, 13th century  12.27.2005, 11:35 AM

The database:

Nestled in the Gaya mountain range in southern Korea, the Haeinsa monastery houses the Tripitaka Koreana, the largest, most complete set of Buddhist scriptures in existence -- over 80,000 wooden tablets (enough to print all of Buddhism's sacred texts) kept in open-air storage for the past six centuries. The tablets were carved between 1237 and 1251 in anticipation of the impending Mongol invasion, both as a spiritual effort to ward off the attack, and as an insurance policy. They replaced an earlier set of blocks that had been destroyed in the last Mongol incursion in 1231.

From Korea's national heritage site description of the tablets:

The printing blocks are some 70cm wide 24cm long and 2.8cm thick on the average. Each block has 23 lines of text, each with 14 characters, on each side. Each block thus has a total of 644 characters on both sides. Some 30 men carved the total 52,382,960 characters in the clean and simple style of Song Chinese master calligrapher Ou-yang Hsun, which was widely favored by the aristocratic elites of Goryeo. The carvers worked with incredible dedication and precision without making a single error. They are said to have knelt down and bowed after carving each character. The script is so uniform from beginning to end that the woodblocks look like the work of one person.

I stayed at the Haeinsa temple last Friday night on a sleeping mat in bare room with a heated floor, alongside a number of noisy Koreans (including the rather sardonic temple webmaster -- Haiensa is a Unesco World Heritage site and so keeps a high profile). At three in the morning, at the call to the day's first service, I tramped around the snowy courtyards under crisp, chill stars and watched as the monks pounded a massive barrel-shaped drum hanging inside a pagoda. This was for the benefit of those praying inside the temple (where it sounds like distant thunder). Shivering to the side, I continued to watch as they rang a bell the size of a Volkswagen with a polished log swung on ropes like a wrecking ball. Next to it, another monk ripped out a loud, clattering drum roll inside the wooden ribs of a dragon-like fish, also suspended from the pagoda's roof. It was freezing cold with a biting wind -- not pleasant to be outside, and at such an hour. But the stars were absolutely vivid. I'm no good at picking out constellations, but Orion was poised unmistakeably above the mountains as though stalking an elk on the other side of the ridge.

It's a magical, somewhat harsh place, Haiensa. The Changgyeonggak, the two storage halls that house the Tripitaka, were built ingeniously to preserve the tablets by blocking wind, facilitating ventilation and distributing moisture. You see the monks busying themselves with devotions and chores, practicing an ancient way of life founded upon those tablets. The whole monastery a kind of computer, the monks running routines to and from the database. The mountains, Orion, the drum all part of the program. It seemed almost more hi-tech than cutting edge Seoul.

More on that later.

Posted by ben vershbow at 11:35 AM | Comments (5)
tags: bible , books , buddha , buddhism , conferences_and_excursions , korea , korean , library , monastery , monastic , printing , scripture , temple , tripitaka

### without gods: an experiment  12.22.2005, 7:27 AM

Just in time for the holidays, a little god-free fun...

The institute is pleased to announce the launch of Without Gods, a new blog by New York University journalism professor and media historian Mitchell Stephens that will serve as a public workshop and forum for the writing of his latest book. Mitch, whose previous works include A History of News and the rise of the image the fall of the word, is in the early stages of writing a narrative history of atheism, to be published in 2007 by Carroll and Graf. The book will tell the story of the human struggle to live without gods, focusing on those individuals, "from Greek philosophers to Romantic poets to formerly Islamic novelists," who have undertaken the cause of atheism - "a cause that promises no heavenly reward."

Without Gods will be a place for Mitch to think out loud and begin a substantive exchange with readers. Our hope is that the conversation will be joined, that ideas will be challenged, facts corrected, queries and probes answered; that lively and intelligent discussion will ensue. As Mitch says: "We expect that the book's acknowledgements will eventually include a number of individuals best known to me by email address."

Without Gods is the first in a series of blogs the institute is hosting to challenge the traditional relationship between authors and readers, to learn how the network might more directly inform the usually solitary business of authorship. We are interested to see how a partial exposure of the writing process might affect the eventual finished book, and at the same time to gently undermine the notion that a book can ever be entirely finished. We invite you to read Without Gods, to spread the word, and to take part in this experiment.

Posted by ben vershbow at 07:27 AM | Comments (0)
tags: Blogosphere , agnostic , atheism , atheist , blog , blogging , book-blog_experiments , books , history , philosophy , publishing , religion , writing

While visiting the Experimental Television Center in upstate New York this past weekend, Lisa found a wonderful relic in a used book shop in Owego, NY -- a small, leatherbound volume from 1962 entitled "Computers," which IBM used to give out as a complimentary item. An introductory note on the opening page reads:

The machines do not think -- but they are one of the greatest aids to the men who do think ever invented! Calculations which would take men thousands of hours -- sometimes thousands of years -- to perform can be handled in moments, freeing scientists, technicians, engineers, businessmen, and strategists to think about using the results.

This echoes Vannevar Bush's seminal 1945 essay on computing and networked knowledge, "As We May Think", which more or less prefigured the internet, web search, and now, the migration of print libraries to the world wide web. Google Book Search opens up fantastic possibilities for research and accessibility, enabling readers to find in seconds what before might have taken them hours, days or weeks. Yet it also promises to transform the very way we conceive of books and libraries, shaking the foundations of major institutions. Will making books searchable online give us more time to think about the results of our research, or will it change the entire way we think? By putting whole books online do we begin the steady process of disintegrating the idea of the book as a bounded whole and not just a sequence of text in a massive database?

The debate thus far has focused too much on the legal ramifications -- helped in part by a couple of high-profile lawsuits from authors and publishers -- failing to take into consideration the larger cognitive, cultural and institutional questions. Those questions will hopefully be given ample air time tonight on Radio Open Source.

Tune in at 7pm ET on local public radio or stream live over the web. The show will also be available later in the week as a podcast.

Posted by ben vershbow at 04:58 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , books , copyright , ebook , google , google_book_search , google_print , library , literature , radio , research , university

### sober thoughts on google: privatization and privacy  11.30.2005, 8:18 AM

Siva Vaidhyanathan has written an excellent essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the "risky gamble" of Google's book-scanning project -- some of the most measured, carefully considered comments I've yet seen on the issue. His concerns are not so much for the authors and publishers that have filed suit (on the contrary, he believes they are likely to benefit from Google's service), but for the general public and the future of libraries. Outsourcing to a private company the vital task of digitizing collections may prove to have been a grave mistake on the part of Google's partner libraries. Siva:

The long-term risk of privatization is simple: Companies change and fail. Libraries and universities last.....Libraries should not be relinquishing their core duties to private corporations for the sake of expediency. Whichever side wins in court, we as a culture have lost sight of the ways that human beings, archives, indexes, and institutions interact to generate, preserve, revise, and distribute knowledge. We have become obsessed with seeing everything in the universe as "information" to be linked and ranked. We have focused on quantity and convenience at the expense of the richness and serendipity of the full library experience. We are making a tremendous mistake.

This essay contains in abundance what has largely been missing from the Google books debate: intellectual courage. Vaidhyanathan, an intellectual property scholar and "avowed open-source, open-access advocate," easily could have gone the predictable route of scolding the copyright conservatives and spreading the Google gospel. But he manages to see the big picture beyond the intellectual property concerns. This is not just about economics, it's about knowledge and the public interest.

What irks me about the usual debate is that it forces you into a position of either resisting Google or being its apologist. But this fails to get at the real bind we all are in: the fact that Google provides invaluable services and yet is amassing too much power; that a private company is creating a monopoly on public information services. Sooner or later, there is bound to be a conflict of interest. That is where we, the Google-addicted public, are caught. It's more complicated than hip versus square, or good versus evil.

Here's another good piece on Google. On Monday, The New York Times ran an editorial by Adam Cohen that nicely lays out the privacy concerns:

Google says it needs the data it keeps to improve its technology, but it is doubtful it needs so much personally identifiable information. Of course, this sort of data is enormously valuable for marketing. The whole idea of "Don't be evil," though, is resisting lucrative business opportunities when they are wrong. Google should develop an overarching privacy theory that is as bold as its mission to make the world's information accessible - one that can become a model for the online world. Google is not necessarily worse than other Internet companies when it comes to privacy. But it should be doing better.

Two graduate students in Stanford in the mid-90s recognized that search engines would the most important tools for dealing with the incredible flood of information that was then beginning to swell, so they started indexing web pages and working on algorithms. But as the company has grown, Google's admirable-sounding mission statement -- "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" -- has become its manifest destiny, and "information" can now encompass the most private of territories.

At one point it simply meant search results -- the answers to our questions. But now it's the questions as well. Google is keeping a meticulous record of our clickstreams, piecing together an enormous database of queries, refining its search algorithms and, some say, even building a massive artificial brain (more on that later). What else might they do with all this personal information? To date, all of Google's services are free, but there may be a hidden cost.

"Don't be evil" may be the company motto, but with its IPO earlier this year, Google adopted a new ideology: they are now a public corporation. If web advertising (their sole source of revenue) levels off, then investors currently high on $400+ shares will start clamoring for Google to maintain profits. "Don't be evil to us!" they will cry. And what will Google do then? images: New York Public Library reading room by Kalloosh via Flickr; archive of the original Google page ### world digital library 11.22.2005, 7:41 AM The Library of Congress has announced plans for the creation of a World Digital Library, "a shared global undertaking" that will make a major chunk of its collection freely available online, along with contributions from other national libraries around the world. From The Washington Post: ...[the] goal is to bring together materials from the United States and Europe with precious items from Islamic nations stretching from Indonesia through Central and West Africa, as well as important materials from collections in East and South Asia. Google has stepped forward as the first corporate donor, pledging$3 million to help get operations underway. At this point, there doesn't appear to be any direct connection to Google's Book Search program, though Google has been working with LOC to test and refine its book-scanning technology.

Posted by ben vershbow at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , books , digital , google , library , library_of_congress , literature , preservation , scanning

### online retail influencing libraries  11.21.2005, 12:07 PM

The NY Times reports on new web-based services at university libraries that are incorporating features such as personalized recommendations, browsing histories, and email alerts, the sort of thing developed by online retailers like Amazon and Netflix to recreate some of the experience of browsing a physical store. Remember Ranganathan's fourth law of library science: "save the time of the reader." The reader and the customer are perhaps becoming one in the same.

Posted by ben vershbow at 12:07 PM | Comments (3)
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , Social Software , books , folksonomy , librarian , library , metadata , reading , social_software , tagging , taxonomy

### google print is no more  11.18.2005, 8:06 AM

Not the program, of course, just the name. From now on it is to be known as Google Book Search. "Print" obviously struck a little too close to home with publishers and authors. On the company blog, they explain the shift in emphasis:

No, we don't think that this new name will change what some folks think about this program. But we do believe it will help a lot of people understand better what we're doing. We want to make all the world's books discoverable and searchable online, and we hope this new name will help keep everyone focused on that important goal.

Posted by ben vershbow at 08:06 AM | Comments (1)

### writing in the open  11.16.2005, 5:01 PM

Mitch Stephens, NYU professor, was here for lunch today. when Ben and I met with him about a month ago about the academic bloggers/public intellectuals project, Mitch mentioned he had just signed a contract with Carroll & Graf to write a book on the history of atheism. today's lunch was to follow up a suggestion we made that he might consider starting a blog to parallel the research and writing of the book. i'm delighted to report that Mitch has enthusiastically taken up the idea. sometime in the next few weeks we'll launch a new blog, tentatively called Only Sky (shortened from the lyric of john lennon's Imagine ". . . Above us only sky"). it will be an experiment to see whether blogging can be useful to the process of writing a book. i expect Mitch will be thinking out loud and asking all sorts of interesting questions. i also think that readers will likely provide important insight as well as ask their own fascinating questions which will in turn suggest fruitful directions of inquiry. stay tuned.

Posted by bob stein at 05:01 PM | Comments (1)
tags: academic , academy , atheism , blog , blogging , blogs , book-blog_experiments , books , experiment , god , religion , research , writing

### the book in the network - masses of metadata  11.15.2005, 6:42 PM

In this weekend's Boston Globe, David Weinberger delivers the metadata angle on Google Print:

...despite the present focus on who owns the digitized content of books, the more critical battle for readers will be over how we manage the information about that content-information that's known technically as metadata.

...we're going to need massive collections of metadata about each book. Some of this metadata will come from the publishers. But much of it will come from users who write reviews, add comments and annotations to the digital text, and draw connections between, for example, chapters in two different books.

As the digital revolution continues, and as we generate more and more ways of organizing and linking books-integrating information from publishers, libraries and, most radically, other readers-all this metadata will not only let us find books, it will provide the context within which we read them.

The book in the network is a barnacled spirit, carrying with it the sum of its various accretions. Each book is also its own library by virtue not only of what it links to itself, but of what its readers are linking to, of what its readers are reading. Each book is also a milk crate of earlier drafts. It carries its versions with it. A lot of weight for something physically weightless.

### playaways hit the market  11.13.2005, 2:55 PM

Over the next few weeks, shoppers at Borders and Barnes and Noble will get a first look at a new form of audiobook, one that seems halfway between an ipod and those greeting cards that play a tune when opened. Playaways are digitized audio books that come embedded in their own playing device; they sell, for the most part, for only slightly more than audio books on cassette or CD. Each Playaway is also wrapped in a replica of the book jacket of the original printed volume: the idea is that users are supposed to walk around with these deck-of-card-sized players dangling around their necks advertising exactly what it is they're listening to (If you're the type who always tries to sneak a glance at the book jacket of the person who's sitting next to you on the bus or subway, the Playaway will make your life much easier). Findaway has about 40 titles ready for release, including Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner, Doris Kearns Goodwin's American Colossus: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and language training in French, German, Spanish and Italian.

I'm a bit puzzled by the Playaways. I can understand why publishing industry executives would be excited about them, but I'm not so about consumers. The self-contained players are being marketed to an audience that wants an audiobook but doesn't want to be bothered with CD or MP3 players. The happy customers pictured on the Playaway website are both young and middle aged, but I suspect the real audience for these players would be older Americans who have sworn off computer literacy, and I don't know that these folks are listening to audio books through headphones.

Speaking of older Americans, if you go down into my parent's basement, you'll see a few big shopping bags of books-on-tape that they bought, listened to once, and then found too expensive to throw out yet impossible to give away. This seems clearly to be the future of the Playaways, which can be listened to repeatedly (if you keep changing the batteries) but can't play anything else than the book they were intended to play. The throwaway nature of the Playaway (suggested, of course, by the very name of the device) is addressed on the company's website, which provides helpful suggestions on how to get rid of the things once you don't want 'em anymore. According to the website, you can even ask the Playaway people to send you a stamped envelope addressed to a charitable organization that would be happy to take your Playaway.

This begs the obvious question: what if that organization wants to get rid of the Playway? And so on?
How many times will Playaway shell out a stamp to keep their players out of the landfill?

Posted by lisa lynch at 02:55 PM | Comments (4)
tags: audio , audio_books , audiobooks , books , ipod , literature , mp3 , reading

### ebr is back  11.07.2005, 12:49 AM

ebr is back after a several month hiatus during which time it was overhauled. The site, published by AltX was among the first places where the “technorati meets the literati” and I always found it attractive for its emphasis on sustained analysis of digital artifacts and the occasional pop culture reference. The latest project, first person series, seems to answer a lot of what bob finds attractive in the blogs of juan cole and others. And although I’ve heard ebr called “too linear” (as compared to Vectors, USC’s e-journal) the interface goes a long way toward solving the problem of the scrolling feature of many sites/blogs which privilege what’s new. The interweaving threads with search capabilities seem quite hearty.

Posted by virginia kuhn at 12:49 AM | Comments (0)
tags: Online , books , digital , e-literature , ebook , ebr , literati , literature , theory , web

### pages à la carte  11.04.2005, 7:20 AM

The New York Times reports on programs being developed by both Amazon and Google that would allow readers to purchase online access to specific sections of books -- say, a single recipe from a cookbook, an individual chapter from a how-to manual, or a particular short story or poem from an anthology. Such a system would effectively "unbind" books into modular units that consumers patch into their online reading, just as iTunes blew apart the integrity of the album and made digital music all about playlists. We become scrapbook artists.

It seems Random House is in on this too, developing a micropayment model and consulting closely with the two internet giants. Pages would sell for anywhere between five and 25 cents each.

Posted by ben vershbow at 07:20 AM | Comments (1)
tags: Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , Transliteracies , amazon , books , e-commerce , google , google_print , literature , media_consumption , publishing , randomhouse , reading

### google print's not-so-public domain  11.03.2005, 4:16 PM

Google's first batch of public domain book scans is now online, representing a smattering of classics and curiosities from the collections of libraries participating in Google Print. Essentially snapshots of books, they're not particularly comfortable to read, but they are keyword-searchable and, since no copyright applies, fully accessible.

The problem is, there really isn't all that much there. Google's gotten a lot of bad press for its supposedly cavalier attitude toward copyright, but spend a few minutes browsing Google Print and you'll see just how publisher-centric the whole affair is. The idea of a text being in the public domain really doesn't amount to much if you're only talking about antique manuscripts, and these are the only books that they've made fully accessible. Daisy Miller's copyright expired long ago but, with the exception of Harvard's illustrated 1892 copy, all the available scanned editions are owned by modern publishers and are therefore only snippeted. This is not an online library, it's a marketing program. Google Print will undeniably have its uses, but we shouldn't confuse it with a library.

(An interesting offering from the stacks of the New York Public Library is this mid-19th century biographic registry of the wealthy burghers of New York: "Capitalists whose wealth is estimated at one hundred thousand dollars and upwards...")

Posted by ben vershbow at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Copyright and Copyleft , Libraries, Search and the Web , OCR , books , copyright , ebook , google , google_print , library , literature , public_domain , scan

### wikipedia hard copy  11.03.2005, 1:18 AM

Believe it or not, they're printing out Wikipedia, or rather, sections of it. Books for the developing world. Funny that just days ago Gary remarked:

"A Better Wikipedia will require a print version.... A print version would, for better or worse, establish Wikipedia as a cosmology of information and as a work presenting a state of knowledge."

Prescient.

Posted by ben vershbow at 01:18 AM | Comments (3)
tags: books , digital_divide , encyclopedia , print , wiki , wikipedia

Microsoft's forthcoming "MSN Book Search" is the latest entity to join the Open Content Alliance, the non-controversial rival to Google Print. ZDNet says: "Microsoft has committed to paying for the digitization of 150,000 books in the first year, which will be about $5 million, assuming costs of about 10 cents a page and 300 pages, on average, per book..." Apparently having learned from Google's mistakes, OCA operates under a strict "opt-in" policy for publishers vis-a-vis copyrighted works (whereas with Google, publishers have until November 1 to opt out). Judging by the growing roster of participants, including Yahoo, the National Archives of Britain, the University of California, Columbia University, and Rice University, not to mention the Internet Archive, it would seem that less hubris equals more results, or at least lower legal fees. Supposedly there is some communication between Google and OCA about potential cooperation. Also story in NY Times. Posted by ben vershbow at 09:06 AM | Comments (2) tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , Microsoft , OCA , books , brewster_kahle , copyright , google , google_print , library , open_content_alliance , search , web , yahoo ### to some writers, google print sounds like a sweet deal 10.25.2005, 9:25 AM Wired has a piece today about authors who are in favor of Google's plans to digitize millions of books and make them searchable online. Most seem to agree that obscurity is a writer's greatest enemy, and that the exposure afforded by Google's program far outweighs any intellectual property concerns. Sometimes to get more you have to give a little. The article also mentions the institute. Posted by ben vershbow at 09:25 AM | Comments (0) tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , books , copyright , google , google_print , publishing , search , web , writing ### debating google print 10.22.2005, 5:53 PM The Washington Post has run a pair of op-eds, one from each side of the Google Print dispute. Neither says anything particularly new. Moreover, they enforce the perception that there can be only two positions on the subject -- an endemic problem in newspaper opinion pages with their addiction to binaries, where two cardboard boxers are allotted their space to throw a persuasive punch. So you're either for Google or against it? That's awfully close to you're either for technology -- for progress -- or against it. Unfortunately, like technology's impact, the Google book-scanning project is a little trickier to figure out, and a more nuanced conversation is probably in order. The first piece, "Riches We Must Share...", is submitted in support of Google by University of Michigan President Sue Coleman (a partner in the Google library project). She argues that opening up the elitist vaults of the world's great (english) research libraries will constitute a democratic revolution. "We believe the result can be a widening of human conversation comparable to the emergence of mass literacy itself." She goes on to deliver some boilerplate about the "Net Generation" -- too impatient to look for books unless they're online etc. etc. (great to see a major university president being led by the students instead of leading herself). Coleman then devotes a couple of paragraphs to the copyright question, failing to tackle any of its controversial elements: Universities are no strangers to the responsible management of complex copyright, permission and security issues; we deal with them every day in our classrooms, libraries, laboratories and performance halls. We will continue to work within the current criteria for fair use as we move ahead with digitization. The problem is, Google is stretching the current criteria of fair use, possibly to the breaking point. Coleman does not acknowledge or address this. She does, however, remind the plaintiffs that copyright is not only about the owners: The protections of copyright are designed to balance the rights of the creator with the rights of the public. At its core is the most important principle of all: to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, not to stifle such exchange. All in all a rather bland statement in support of open access. It fails to weigh in on the fair use question -- something about which the academy should have a few things to say -- and does not indicate any larger concern about what Google might do with its books database down the road. The opposing view, "...But Not at Writers' Expense", comes from Nick Taylor, writer, and president of the Authors' Guild (which sued Google last month). Taylor asserts that mega-rich Google is tramping on the dignity of working writers. But a couple of paragraphs in, he gets a little mixed up about contemporary publishing: Except for a few big-name authors, publishers roll the dice and hope that a book's sales will return their investment. Because of this, readers have a wealth of wonderful books to choose from. A dubious assessment, since publishing conglomerates are not exactly enthusiastic dice rollers. I would counter that risk-averse corporate publishing has steadily shrunk the number of available titles, counting on a handful of blockbusters to drive the market. Taylor goes on to defend not just the publishing status quo, but the legal one: Now that the Authors Guild has objected, in the form of a lawsuit, to Google's appropriation of our books, we're getting heat for standing in the way of progress, again for thoughtlessly wanting to be paid. It's been tradition in this country to believe in property rights. When did we decide that socialism was the way to run the Internet? First of all, it's funny to think of the huge corporations that dominate the web as socialist. Second, this talk about being paid for appropriating books for a search database is revealing of the two totally different worldviews that are at odds in this struggle. The authors say that any use of their book requires a payment. Google sees including the books in the database as a kind of payment in itself. No one with a web page expects Google to pay them for indexing their site. They are grateful that they do! Otherwise, they are totally invisible. This is the unspoken compact that underpins web search. Google assumed the same would apply with books. Taylor says not so fast. Here's Taylor on fair use: Google contends that the portions of books it will make available to searchers amount to "fair use," the provision under copyright that allows limited use of protected works without seeking permission. That makes a private company, which is profiting from the access it provides, the arbiter of a legal concept it has no right to interpret. And they're scanning the entire books, with who knows what result in the future. Actually, Google is not doing all the interpreting. There is a legal precedent for Google's reading of fair use established in the 2003 9th Circuit Court decision Kelly v. Arriba Soft. In the case, Kelly, a photographer, sued Arriba Soft, an online image search system, for indexing several of his photographs in their database. Kelly believed that his intellectual property had been stolen, but the court ruled that Arriba's indexing of thumbnail-sized copies of images (which always linked to their source sites) was fair use: "Arriba’s use of the images serves a different function than Kelly’s use – improving access to information on the internet versus artistic expression.” Still, Taylor's "with who knows what result in the future" concern is valid. So on the one hand we have many writers and most publishers trying to defend their architecture of revenue (or, as Taylor would have it, their dignity). But I can't imagine how Google Print would really be damaging that architecture, at least not in the foreseeable future. Rather it leverages it by placing it within the frame of another architecture: web search. The irony for the authors is that the current architecture doesn't seem to be serving them terribly well. With print-on-demand gaining in quality and legitimacy, online book search could totally re-define what is an acceptable risk to publishers, and maybe more non-blockbuster authors would get published. On the other hand we have the universities and libraries participating in Google's program, delivering the good news of accessibility. But they are not sufficiently questioning what Google might do with its database down the road, or the implications of a private technology company becoming the principal gatekeeper of the world's corpus. If only this debate could be framed in a subtler way, rather than the for-Google-or-against-it paradigm we have now. I'm cautiously optimistic about the effect of having books searchable on the web. And I tend to believe it will be beneficial to authors and publishers. But I have other, deep reservations about the direction in which Google is heading, and feel that a number of things could go wrong. We think the cencorship of the marketplace is bad now in the age of publishing conglomerates. What if one company has total control of everything? And is keeping track of every book, every page, that you read. And is reading you while you read, throwing ads into your peripheral vision. I'm curious to hear from readers what they feel could be the hazards of Google Print. Posted by ben vershbow at 05:53 PM | Comments (4) tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , academy , books , copyright , google , google_print , michigan , publishing , writing ### google expands book-scanning project to europe 10.18.2005, 8:56 AM This week Google will be paying a visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair to talk with European publishers and chief librarians (including arch nemesis Jean-Nöel Jeanneney) about eight new local incarnations of Google Print. (more) Posted by ben vershbow at 08:56 AM | Comments (0) tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , Online , books , copyright , ebook , europe , frankfurt , google , internet , library , publishing , search , web ### a future written in electronic ink? 10.18.2005, 8:47 AM Discussions about the future of newspapers often allude to a moment in the Steven Spielberg film "Minority Report," set in the year 2054, in which a commuter on the train is reading something that looks like a paper copy of USA Today, but which seems to be automatically updating and rearranging its contents like a web page. This is a comforting vision for the newspaper business: reassigning the un-bottled genie of the internet to the familiar commodity of the broadsheet. But as with most science fiction, the fallacy lies in the projection of our contemporary selves into an imagined future, when in fact people and the way they read may have very much changed by the year 2054. Being a newspaper is no fun these days. The demand for news is undiminished, but online readers (most of us now) feel entitled to a free supply. Print circulation numbers continue to plummet, while the cost of newsprint steadily rises -- it hovers right now at about$625 per metric ton (according to The Washington Post, a national U.S. paper can go through around 200,000 tons in a year).

Staffs are being cut, hiring freezes put into effect. Some newspapers (The Guardian in Britain and soon the Wall Street Journal) are changing the look and reducing the size of their print product to lure readers and cut costs. But given the rather grim forecast, some papers are beginning to ponder how other technologies might help them survive.

Last week, David Carr wrote in the Times about "an ipod for text" as a possible savior -- a popular, portable device that would reinforce the idea of the newspaper as something you have in your hand, that you take with you, thereby rationalizing a new kind of subscription delivery. This weekend, the Washington Post hinted at what that device might actually be: a flexible, paper-like screen using "e-ink" technology.

An e-ink display is essentially a laminated sheet containing a thin layer of fluid sandwiched between positive and negative electrodes. Tiny capsules of black and white pigment float in between and arrange themselves into images and text through variance in the charge (the black are negatively charged and the white positively charged). Since the display is not light-based (like the electronic screens we use today), it has an appearance closer to paper. It can be read in bright sunlight, and requires virtually no power to maintain an image.

Frank Ahrens, who wrote the Post piece, held a public online chat with Russ Wilcox, the chief exec of E Ink Corp. Wilcox predicts that large e-ink screens will be available within a year or two, opening the door for newspapers to develop an electronic product that combines web and broadsheet. Even offering the screens to subscribers for free, he calculates, would be more cost-efficient than the current paper delivery system.

A number of major newspaper conglomerates -- including The Hearst Corporation, Gannett Co. (publisher of USA Today), TOPPAN Printing Company of Japan, and France's Vivendi Universal Publishing -- are interested enough in the potential of e-ink that they have become investors.

But maybe it won't be the storied old broadsheet that people crave. A little over a month ago at a trade show in Berlin, Philips Polymer Vision presented a prototype of its new "Readius" -- a device about the size of a mobile phone with a roll-out e-ink screen. This, too, could be available soon. Like it or not, it might make more sense to watch what's developing with cell phones to get a hint of the future.

But even if electronic paper catches on -- and it seems likely that it, or something similar, will -- I wouldn't count on it to solve the problems of the print news industry. It's often tempting to think of new technologies that fundamentally change the way we operate as simply a matter of pouring old wine into new bottles. But electronic paper will be a technology for delivering the web, or even internet television -- not individual newspapers. So then how do we preserve (or transfer) all that is good about print media, about institutions like the Times and the Post, assuming that their prospects continue to worsen? The answer to that, at least for now, is written in invisible ink.

### nicholas carr on "the amorality of web 2.0"  10.17.2005, 9:00 AM

Nicholas Carr, who writes about business and technology and formerly was an editor of the Harvard Business Review, has published an interesting though problematic piece on "the amorality of web 2.0". I was drawn to the piece because it seemed to be questioning the giddy optimism surrounding "web 2.0", specifically Kevin Kelly's rapturous late-summer retrospective on ten years of the world wide web, from Netscape IPO to now. While he does poke some much-needed holes in the carnival floats, Carr fails to adequately address the new media practices on their own terms and ends up bashing Wikipedia with some highly selective quotes.

Carr is skeptical that the collectivist paradigms of the web can lead to the creation of high-quality, authoritative work (encyclopedias, journalism etc.). Forced to choose, he'd take the professionals over the amateurs. But put this way it's a Hobson's choice. Flawed as it is, Wikipedia is in its infancy and is probably not going away. Whereas the future of Britannica is less sure. And it's not just amateurs that are participating in new forms of discourse (take as an example the new law faculty blog at U. Chicago). Anyway, here's Carr:

The Internet is changing the economics of creative work - or, to put it more broadly, the economics of culture - and it's doing it in a way that may well restrict rather than expand our choices. Wikipedia might be a pale shadow of the Britannica, but because it's created by amateurs rather than professionals, it's free. And free trumps quality all the time. So what happens to those poor saps who write encyclopedias for a living? They wither and die. The same thing happens when blogs and other free on-line content go up against old-fashioned newspapers and magazines. Of course the mainstream media sees the blogosphere as a competitor. It is a competitor. And, given the economics of the competition, it may well turn out to be a superior competitor. The layoffs we've recently seen at major newspapers may just be the beginning, and those layoffs should be cause not for self-satisfied snickering but for despair. Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can't imagine anything more frightening.

He then has a nice follow-up in which he republishes a letter from an administrator at Wikipedia, which responds to the above.

Encyclopedia Britannica is an amazing work. It's of consistent high quality, it's one of the great books in the English language and it's doomed. Brilliant but pricey has difficulty competing economically with free and apparently adequate....

...So if we want a good encyclopedia in ten years, it's going to have to be a good Wikipedia. So those who care about getting a good encyclopedia are going to have to work out how to make Wikipedia better, or there won't be anything.

Let's discuss.

### pinter and the nobel prize  10.13.2005, 5:08 PM

Twice in one year now the Swedish academy has used the Nobel Prize as a political swipe at the Bush administration, first giving the peace medal to Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA (a difference of opinion on disarmament, you could say), and today awarding the prize for literature to British playwright Harold Pinter, who in recent years has been a vocal critic of US and British policies, once referring to Tony Blair as a "deluded idiot."

But recent years aside, Pinter undoubtedly deserves the prize for his life's work in the theatre, where he developed a politics far more complex, painful and profound than what is on display in his latter-day fumings (generally right though they may be) about American empire.

In college I acted in one of Pinter's later plays, Ashes to Ashes (1996), a mysterious single act about a marriage in crisis, and a good example of the kind of frightening moral puzzle, encompassing the personal and the political, that Pinter excelled at creating. In a comfortable English living room, in a comfortable English university town, a woman seems to psychically rupture before her husband's eyes, traumatized by events she relates only in part, and which she could not possibly have been alive to experience.

She confesses to having had an affair with the warden of a Nazi death camp, and having lived with him there. She describes the horror of the place, obscenely channeling the Holocaust as a sort of sexual taunt toward her mystified husband, but at the same time communicating her distress at the slow suffocation of their marriage. It is a sickening game, but one they must play in order to cut to the heart of their relationship. Ashes to Ashes is a domestic play, but somehow the entire century speaks through it.

On a more general note, it's encouraging to see a dramatist get recognized on this scale, a statement about the continued relevance, at least in concept, of the theatre -- an unmediated medium in a thoroughly mediated age. It also says something about language. Pinter, whose bleak but darkly humorous sensibilities were formed in bombed-out, post-WWII England, uses language sparely and with scalpel-like precision. Playwright David Hare said of him:

"Pinter did what Auden said a poet should do. He cleaned the gutters of the English language, so that it ever afterwards flowed more easily and more cleanly."

His plays have the ominousness of still water, the words like stones breaking the surface. You have to read and feel the ripples. In an age where mass media, and now the internet, have devalued words, Pinter found a way to make them startling again. He also understands the power of silence.

Elevating Pinter as international spokesman for the left, the Swedes missed the point. His recent protests haven't been terribly interesting or original. But in missing, they still struck gold. All this media attention cannot really convey the power of his plays. Hopefully, this will lead to a reinvigorated interest in producing them. They still speak vitally to our times.

Posted by ben vershbow at 05:08 PM | Comments (2)
tags: afghanistan , america , books , britain , bush , drama , empire , english , harold_pinter , iraq , language , literature , nobel , nobel_prize , nobelprize , pinter , politics , theater , theatre

### an ipod for text  10.13.2005, 9:26 AM

When I ride the subway, I see a mix of paper and plastic. Invariably several passengers are lost in their ipods (there must be a higher ipod-per-square-meter concentration in New York than anywhere else). One or two are playing a video game of some kind. Many just sit quietly with their thoughts. A few are conversing. More than a few are reading. The subway is enormously literate. A book, a magazine, The Times, The Post, The Daily News, AM New York, Metro, or just the ads that blanket the car interior. I may spend a lot of time online at home or at work, but on the subway, out in the city, paper is going strong.

Before long, they'll be watching television on the subway too, seeing as the latest ipod now plays video. But rewind to Monday, when David Carr wrote in the NY Times about another kind of ipod -- one that would totally change the way people read newspapers. He suggests that to bounce back from these troubled times (sagging print circulation, no reliable business model for their websites), newspapers need a new gadget to appear on the market: a light-weight, highly portable device, easy on the eyes, easy on the batteries, that uploads articles from the web so you can read them anywhere. An ipod for text.

But the thing is, online reading is quite different from print reading. There's a lot of hopping around, a lot of digression. Any new hardware that would seek to tempt people to convert from paper would have to be able to surf the web. With mobile web, and wireless networks spreading, people would expect nothing less (even the new Sony PSP portable gaming device has a web browser). But is there a good way to read online text when you're offline? Should we be concerned with this? Until wi-fi is ubiquitous and we're online all the time (a frightening thought), the answer is yes.

We're talking about a device that you plug into your computer that automatically pulls articles from pre-selected sources, presumably via RSS feeds. This is more or less how podcasting works. But for this to have an appeal with text, it will have to go further. What if in addition to uploading new articles in your feed list, it also pulled every document that those articles linked to, so you could click through to referenced sites just as you would if you were online?

It would be a bounded hypertext system. You could do all the hopping around you like within the cosmos of that day's feeds, and not beyond -- you would have the feeling of the network without actually being hooked in. Text does not take up a lot of hard drive space, and with the way flash memory is advancing, building a device with this capacity would not be hard to achieve. Of course, uploading link upon link could lead down an infinite paper trail. So a limit could be imposed, say, a 15-step cap -- a limit that few are likely to brush up against.

So where does the money come in? If you want an ipod for text, you're going to need an itunes for text. The "portable, bounded hypertext RSS reader" (they'd have to come up with a catchier name --the tpod, or some such techno-cuteness) would be keyed in to a subscription service. It would not be publication-specific, because then you'd have to tediously sign up with dozens of sites, and no reasonable person would do this.

So newspapers, magazines, blogs, whoever, will sign licensing agreements with the tpod folks and get their corresponding slice of the profits based on the success of their feeds. There's a site called KeepMedia that is experimenting with such a model on the web, though not with any specific device in mind (and it only includes mainstream media, no blogs). That would be the next step. Premium papers like the Times or The Washington Post might become the HBOs and Showtimes of this text-ripping scheme -- pay a little extra and you get the entire electronic edition uploaded daily to your tpod.

As for the device, well, the Sony Librie has had reasonable success in Japan and will soon be released in the States. The Librie is incredibly light and uses an "e-ink" display that is reflective like paper (i.e. it can be read in bright sunlight), and can run through 10,000 page views on four triple-A batteries.

The disadvantages: it's only black-and-white and has no internet connectivity. It also doesn't seem to be geared for pulling syndicated text. Bob brought one back from Japan. It's nice and light, and the e-ink screen is surprisingly sharp. But all in all, it's not quite there yet.

There's always the do-it-yourself approach. The Voyager Company in Japan has developed a program called T-Time (the image at the top is from their site) that helps you drag and drop text from the web into an elegant ebook format configureable for a wide range of mobile devices: phones, PDAs, ipods, handheld video games, camcorders, you name it. This demo (in Japanese, but you'll get the idea) demonstrates how it works.

Presumably, you would also read novels on your text pod. I personally would be loathe to give up paper here, unless it was a novel that had to be read electronically because it was multimedia, or networked, or something like that. But for syndicated text -- periodicals, serials, essays -- I can definitely see the appeal of this theoretical device. I think it's something people would use.

### "everything bad is good for you" is really bad  10.11.2005, 10:31 AM

just finished the second book discussion at the institute. first was neil postman's building a bridge to the eighteenth century. second was steve johnson's everything bad is good for you in which johnson presents a contemporary refutation of postman.

johnson's basic premise seems harmless enough. games and tv drama are getting more layered, more complex. the mental exercise is likely making our brains more nimble, might even be improving our problem-solving skills. OK...

but how can you define good and bad simply in terms of whether one's brain is better at multi-tasking and problem-solving. i'll grant that this shift in raw brain power might make us more effective worker bees for our techno-capitalist society, but it doesn't mean that the substance of our lives or the social fabric is improved.

we don't need cheerleaders telling us everything is fine — especially when in our gut we're pretty sure it isn't. we need to look long and hard at the kind of world we are building with all this technology.

johnson's book has been widely praised, making it all the more important to hold it up to careful scrutiny. over the next several days we're going to launch a serious critique of "everything bad is good for you." please feel encouraged to join in.

Posted by bob stein at 10:31 AM | Comments (4)
tags: Games , TV , book , books , culture , everything_bad_is_good_for_you? , film , future , gaming , iq , media , reading , steven_johnson , stevenjohnson , technology , television , video_games

### welcome to the 19th century  10.10.2005, 12:30 AM

The following was posted by Gary Frost as a comment to our post on Neil Postman's "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century." Gary recently returned from the Mississippi coast where he was part of a team helping to assess library and museum damage after Katrina.

The mystic advise that we walk into the darkness. Postman’s only qualification is that we do futurism with the right gear. But we cannot wander off into the future with enough AA batteries. An archeologist at the storm damaged Jefferson Davis presidential library greeted me saying; “Welcome to the19th century.” He was not kidding. No water, no electricity, no gas, no groceries. He was digging up the same artifacts for the second time in the immense debris fields left by Katrina.

We were driven to a manuscript era and we were invigorated to do our best. Strangely the cell phones worked and we talked to Washington from the 19th century. We asked if the Nation was still interested in the culture of the deep south. Not really, Transformers were at work and in our mobile society the evacuees had left for good. The army trucks were building new roads over the unmarked gravesites of 3000 Confederate veterans, who in their old age, came to Jeff Davis’ home to die.

We were left hanging about the future and technologies were a sidebar. It wasn’t really important that the 19th century had invented instantaneous communication, digital encoding or photographic representation or that the 21st century was taking the credit for its exploitation of these accomplishments. The gist was that the future deserved to be informed and not deluded. The gist was that the future would be fulfilled as a measure of its use of the accomplishments of a much longer past.

### media consumption #2  10.04.2005, 6:18 AM

While browsing bookstores in london yesterday — still one of my most favorite pastimes — i came across a beautiful box of 70 thin-spined pocketbooks, the colors of the spine intentionally creating a stunning run of the spectrum from blue to orange. turns out it is a series of 70 essays and short fiction celebrating Penguin's 70th anniversary and its claim to have initiated the 'paperback revolution.' [note: legendary editor jason epstein claims to have done this for Doubleday. does anyone have any insight into whether either claimant really has bragging rights?].

Although i wanted to spring for the whole box, the \$125 price tag was too daunting so i bought 3 of the slim volumes — "The Desert and the Dancing Girls,", a travelogue by Gustave Flaubert describing his journey to Egypt; On Seeing and Noticing," a collection of philosopher Alain de Botton's short essays, and "The Mirror of Ink," seven of Jorge Luis Borge's wonderful short stories. the cover of each volume is exquisitely and thoughtfully designed, each by a different artist.

Each title is so beautiful in its own right, Penguin has succeeded in putting together a series which underlines the appeal of books as objects. the success of the series stems less from the elegance of the graphic design than from the decision to "go small." none of the books in the series exceeds 60 pages; given the size of the page and the font, they are probably equivalent to a long piece in the New Yorker or the chapter of a book. had Penguin decided to celebrate their birthday with 70 beautifully designed books i would have wanted to own the objects but wouldn't necessarily expect to read any of them. however, the curatorial intelligence behind this series seems to have come up with a concept which is "just right." there is something about the discrete boundaries of these short volumes which makes me think i could read them and that i want to read them, not just own them. the closest analogy is to a box of incomparably appetizing chocolates where i browse the contents over and over, making decsions of which to eat first and which to save for later. somehow the packaging has assured me this is a prospect worth attending to.

Sad to say i can't even imagine writing the above to describe offerings in the digital domain. we may get there, but the terms will be different.

Posted by bob stein at 06:18 AM | Comments (7)
tags: book , books , graphic_design , media_consumption , packaging , penguin , reading

### yahoo! announces book-scanning project to rival google's  10.03.2005, 2:00 PM

Yahoo, in collaboration with The Internet Archive, Adobe, O'Reilly Media, Hewlett Packard Labs, the University of California, the University of Toronto, The National Archives of England, and others, will be participating in The Open Content Alliance, a book and media archiving project that will greatly enlarge the body of knowledge available online. At first glance, it appears the program will focus primarily on public domain works, and in the case of copyrighted books, will seek to leverage the Creative Commons.

Google Print, on the other hand, is more self-consciously a marketing program for publishers and authors (although large portions of the public domain will be represented as well). Google aims to make money off its indexing of books through keyword advertising and click-throughs to book vendors. Yahoo throwing its weight behind the "open content" movement seems on the surface to be more of a philanthropic move, but clearly expresses a concern over being outmaneuvered in the search wars. But having this stuff available online is clearly a win for the world at large.

The Alliance was conceived in large part by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive. He announced the project on Yahoo's blog:

To kick this off, Internet Archive will host the material and sometimes helps with digitization, Yahoo will index the content and is also funding the digitization of an initial corpus of American literature collection that the University of California system is selecting, Adobe and HP are helping with the processing software, University of Toronto and O'Reilly are adding books, Prelinger Archives and the National Archives of the UK are adding movies, etc. We hope to add more institutions and fine tune the principles of working together.

Initial digitized material will be available by the end of the year.

More in:
NY Times
Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Posted by ben vershbow at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , archive , book , books , brewster_kahle , digital , digitize , ebook , google , google_print , googleprint , internet_archive , kahle , library , literature , reading , scanning , yahoo , yahoo!

### creative versioning project  10.03.2005, 11:59 AM

"I don't have a single early draft of any novel or story. I just 'saved' over the originals until I reached the final version. All there is is the books themselves." - Zadie Smith

This is a call (re-published from the Electronic Literature Organization) for writers to participate in a creative versioning project, hopefully to begin this winter:

Matthew Kirschenbaum is looking for poets and fiction writers willing to participate in a project to archive versions of texts in progress. An electronic document repository (known as a Concurrent Versions System, or CVS) will be used to track revisions and changes to original fiction and poetry contributed by participating writers who will work by checking their drafts in and out of the repository system. The goal is to provide access to a work at each and every state of its composition and conceptual evolution ­- thereby capturing the text as a living, dynamic object-in-the-making rather than a finished end-product. A reader will be able to watch the composition process unfold as though s/he were looking over the writer’s shoulder.

For guidelines and contact info, visit ELO.

Posted by ben vershbow at 11:59 AM | Comments (2)
tags: CVS , ELO , book , books , concurrent_versioning_system , digital , digital_literature , ebook , editing , eliterature , lit , literature , novel , project , revision , revision_history , story , versioning , writing

### kurzweil's techno-narcissism  09.30.2005, 11:20 AM

Ray Kurzweil looks into the future and sees the singularity gazing back full of love. It whispers. It seduces. "Ray, take care. Preserve yourself. It will be another 50 years yet. Go. Preserve yourself with vitamins, fruits, infusions. Keep your body tender and vital, and soon enough you will be subsumed, you will transcend. The singularity is near!"

Kurzweil's book is out and it's as big as a dictionary. A good friend of mine was given it as a gift a couple of nights ago for his birthday. After dinner, as we rode the crosstown bus toward a game of cards, I read the first few pages. Try holding this goliath in one hand! The bus was crowded and we were standing in the aisle, gripping the handles on the top rail. The bus lurched, and I cursed my physiognomy. If only I could download the damn thing into my brain! If only the singularity were here now!

Kurzweil's theory, or rather, his unshakeable conviction, his messianic belief, is that we, the human species, are nearing the point (he predicts around 2045) when our tools will become more intelligent than us and we will merge - mentally, biologically, spiritually - with them. Computer processing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology are all developing at an exponential rate (the law of accelerating returns), and are approaching a point of singularity, an all-encompassing transformative power, that will enable us to eliminate poverty, eradicate hunger, and "transcend biology."

The reason Kurzweil is preserving his body - "reprogramming his biochemistry," as he puts it - is because he is convinced that in about a generation's time we will be able to ingest millions of microscopic nanobots into our neural pathways that will turn our brains into supercomputers, and engineer ourselves to live as long as we please. We will become, to borrow a conceit from an earlier book of Kurzweil's, "spiritual machines."

I would like to say that I will take the time to read his book and engage with it in more than a passing (and admittedly reactionary) way. Perhaps we'll make a project of reading Kurzweil here at the institute as a counterpoint to Neil Postman (see recent discussion). But I'm not sure how much of his flaming narcissism I can take. Kurzweil's ideas of "transhumanism" are so divorced from any social context, so devoid of any acknowledgment of the destructive or enslaving capacities of technology, and above all, so self-involved (the fruit and vitamin regimen is no joke - and there is probably a black monolith at the foot of his bed), that I'm not quite sure how to have a useful discussion about them.

As an inventor, Kurzweil has made many valuable contributions to society, including text-to-speech synthesis and speech recognition technology that has greatly aided the blind. It is understandable that his success in these endeavors has instilled a certain faith in technology's capacity to do good. But his ecstatic, almost sexual, enthusiasm for human-machine integration is more than a little grotesque. Kurzweil's website and book jacket are splashed with approving quotes from big name technologists. But I don't find it particularly reassuring, or convincing, to know that Bill Gates thinks

Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.

For a more reasoned, economic analysis of the possible outcomes of accelerating returns, read John Quiggins' "The singularity and the knife-edge" on Crooked Timber. Another law - or if not a law, then at least a common sense suspicion - is that if the engine keeps accelerating and heating it up, it will eventually fall apart.

Posted by ben vershbow at 11:20 AM | Comments (2)
tags: AI , Microsoft , artificial_intelligence , billgates , biotech , book , books , computer , digital , kurzweil , minsky , mooreslaw , nano , nanotechnology , processor , reading , singularity , society , technology , transhuman , transhumanism

### the future of the institute  09.27.2005, 5:36 PM

lately i've been thinking about how the institute for the future of the book should be experimental in form as well as content - an organization whose work, when appropriate, is carried out in real time in a relatively public forum. one of the key themes of our first year has been the way a network adds value to an enterprise, whether that be a thought experiment, an attempt to create a collective memory, a curated archive of best practices, or a blog that gathers and processes the world around it. i sense we are feeling our way to new methods of organizing work and distributing the results, and i want to figure out ways to make that aspect of our effort more transparent, more available to the world. this probably calls for a reevaluation of (or a re-acquaintance with) our idea of what an institute actually is, or should be.

the university-based institute arose in the age of print. scholars gathering together to make headway in a particular area of inquiry wrote papers, edited journals, held symposia and printed books of the proceedings. if books are what humans have used to move big ideas around, institutes arose to focus attention on particular big ideas and to distribute the result of that attention, mostly via print. now, as the medium shifts from printed page to networked screen, the organization and methods of "institutes" will change as well.

how they will change is what we hope to find out, and in some small way, influence. so over the next year or so we'll be trying out a variety of different approaches to presenting our work, and new ways of facilitating debate and discussion. hopefully, we'll draw some of you in along the way.

here's a first try. we've decided (see thinking out loud) to initiate a weekly discussion at the institute where we read a book (or article or....) and then have a no-holds discussion about it -- hoping to at least begin to understand some of the first order questions about what we are doing and how it fits into our perspectives on society. mostly we're hoping to get to a place where we are regularly asking these questions in our work (whether designing software, studying the web, holding a symposium, or encouraging new publishing projects), measuring technological developments against a sense of what kind of society we'd like to live in and how a particular technology might help or hinder our getting there.

the first discussion is focused on neil postman's "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century." following is the audio we recorded broken into annotated chapters. we would be interested in getting people's feedback on both form and content. (jump to the discussion)

Posted by bob stein at 05:36 PM | Comments (1)
tags: Online , Thought Experiments , book , books , culture , digital , ebook , future , ideas , institute , literature , politics , publishing , reading , society , technology , web

### podcast: discussing neil postman's "building a bridge to the 18th century"  09.27.2005, 5:32 PM

(Annotated audio recordings of this discussion appear further down.)

On the dedication page of "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century," Neil Postman quotes the poet Randall Jarrell:

Soon we shall know everything the 18th century didn't know, and nothing it did, and it will be hard to live with us.

Though often failing to provide satisfying answers, Postman asks the kind of first-order questions one hears all too infrequently at a time when technology's impact on our social, political and intellectual lives grows ever more profound. Postman has been accused of deep reactionism toward technology, and indeed, his hostility toward computers and telecommunications betrays an elitism that discredits some of his larger, and quite compelling observations.

In spite of this, Postman's diagnosis is persuasive: that the idea of technological progress bequeathed by the Enlightenment has detached from reason and become a runaway train, that we are unquestioningly embracing new technologies that unleash massive change on our family and communal life, our democracy, and our capacity to think critically. We have stopped asking the single most important question that should be applied to all new technological innovations: does this technology solve a problem? If so, then at what cost? To whose benefit? And at whose expense?

Postman portrays the contemporary West as a culture without a narrative, littered with the shards of broken ideologies - depressed, unmotivated, and therefore uncritical of the new technologies that are foisted upon it by a rapacious capitalist system. The culprit, as he sees it, is postmodernism, which he lambasts (rather simplistically) as a corrosive intellectual trend, picking at the corpse of the Enlightenment, and instilling torpor and malaise at all levels of culture through its distrust of language and dogged refusal to accept one truth over another. This kind of thinking, Postman argues, is seductive, but it starves humans of their inspiration and sense of purpose.

To be saved, he goes on, and to build a better future, we would do well to look back to the philosophes of 18th century Europe, who, in the face of surging industrialization, defined a new idea of universal rational humanism - one that allowed for various interpretations within its fold, was rigorously suspicious of religious or any other kind of dogma, and yet gave the world a sense of moral uplift and progress. Postman does not suggest that we copy the 18th century, but rather give it careful study in order to draw inspiration for a new positive narrative, and for a reinvigoration of our critical outlook. This, Postman insists, offers us the best chance of surviving our future.

Postman's note of alarm, if at times shrill, is nonetheless a refreshing antidote to the techno-optimism that pervades contemporary culture. And his recognition of our "crisis in narrative" - a formulation borrowed from Vaclav Havel - is dead on.

September 19: Bob, Dan, Kim, and Ben discuss Postman's book at our new Brooklyn office (special prize if you pick out the sound of the ice cream truck passing by).

2. Ben's first impressions - childhood under threat... Dan's first impressions into discussion - a Clinton-era book, sets up a rather straw man caricature with the postmodernists, but society's need for a narrative is compelling - why the Christian right has done so well... Postman seems to be assuming that progress is a law, that there is a directed narrative to history - problems with how he treats evolution. (6:43) (download)

3. Bob: Postman is much better at identifying problems than at coming up with solutions. Which is what makes him compelling. His stance is courageous. People assume with technology that just because something can be done it should be done. This is a tremendous problem - an affliction. If you could go back in time and be the inventor of the automobile, would you do it? People get angry at the responsibility this question imputes to them. How can we put these big questions at the center of our work? (13:34) (download)

4. Another big question... "An electronic community is only a simulation of a real community"? Flickr, Friendster, Howard Dean campaign? What is the vehicle for talking about this? What format is best for engaging these questions? Looking for new forms that illuminate or activate the questions. (15:43) (download)

5. Where/who are the public intellectuals today? [The ice cream truck passes by.] Strange bifurcation of the intellectual elite - many of the best-educated people most able to deal with abstraction make their living producing popular media that controls society. (10:07) (download)

6. Is capitalism the problem? Postman's bias: written language will never be surpassed in its power to deal with abstract thought and cultivation of ideas. But we are arguably past the primacy of print. What is our attitude toward this? (9:39) (download)

7. What opportunities for reflection do different media afford? Films on DVD can be read and reread like a book - the viewer controls, rather than being controlled - a possibility for reflection not available in broadcast. What is the proper venue for discussing this? Capitalism is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. How do we create, if not a mass agitation, then at least a mass discussion? Tie it to the larger pressing problems of the world and how they will be better addressed by certain forms of discourse and reflection. Averting ecological catastrophe as one possible narrative - an inspiring motivator that will get people moving. How do find our way back into history? (10:09) (download)

9. How do we organize new kinds of debates about technology and society? Other issues to be addressed - class, race and gender inequality. (11:26) (download)

### marketing books on mobile phones  09.22.2005, 5:25 PM

Harper Collins Australia's new MobileReader service beams information about new titles and authors, and even book excerpts, to a cellphone. They're beginning with promotions of Dean Koontz, Paul Coelho and others.

(via textually)

### the future is not here  09.21.2005, 9:51 AM

"Don't let anyone tell you different: the future is not here. Our cars? Not flying. Our food? Not in pill form. Our books? Not electronic." An article by Joshua Fruhlinger in IBM's developerWorks addresses the ebook problem. Nothing new here; but he does give an entertaining summary of the troubles with and the aspirations for future books.

Posted by Kim White at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)
tags: IBM , JoshuaFrulinger , books , ebooks , electronicpaper , future

### "the minotaur project" featured at ELO  09.20.2005, 11:33 AM

Kim's hypermedia poem cluster, "The Minotaur Project," is currently featured at the Electronic Literature Organization. Highly recommended.

Posted by ben vershbow at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)
tags: Kore , Persephone , book , books , digital , digital_literature , ebook , eliterature , hypermedia , hypertext , lit , literature , minotaur , myth , mythology , poem , poetry , reading

### introducing next\text  09.16.2005, 8:02 PM

The dawn of personal computing and the web has changed the way we learn, yet the tools of instruction have been sluggish to evolve. Nowhere is this more clear than with the printed textbook.

So the institute has launched next\text, a project that seeks to accelerate the textbook's evolution, onward from its current incarnation, the authoritative brick, toward something more fluid, more complete, and more alive - more fitting with this networked age.

Our aim is to encourage - through identifying existing experiments and facilitating new ones - the development of born-digital learning materials that will enhance, expand, and ultimately replace the printed textbook. To begin, we've set up a curated site showcasing the most significant digital learning experiments currently in the field. Our hunch is that by bringing these projects (and eventually, their creators) together in a single place, along with publishers and funders willing to take a risk, a concrete vision of the digital textbook for the near future might emerge. And actually happen.

So check out the site, comment, and by all means recommend other projects you think belong there. What's up now is a seed group - things that have gotten our wheels turning so far - to be grown and expanded by the collective intelligence of the community.

Posted by ben vershbow at 08:02 PM | Comments (1)
tags: Education , book , books , classroom , digital , ebook , elearning , pedagogy , publishing , school , student , textbook , university

### making visible the invisible: george legrady installation at seattle central library  09.16.2005, 6:37 PM

A nice companion piece to the "database of intentions" is George Legrady's new installation, "Making Visible the Invisible," at the Rem Koolhaas-designed Seattle Central Library. Six large LED display panels suspended above the "mixing chamber" on the library's fifth floor display a series of visualizations depicting the circulation of library books and other media across time and classification area, providing "a real-time living picture of what the community is thinking."

KeyWord Map Attack

Legrady described the project at the Transliteracies conference this past June in Santa Barbara. At that time, Bob blogged:

the pinpoint accuracy of computer-searches, leaves those of us lucky enough to have spent time in library stacks, nostalgic for the unexpected discovery of something we didn't know we were looking for but which just happened, serendipitously, to be on a nearby shelf. George Legrady, artist and prof at UC Santa Barbara, just showed a project he is working on for the new public library in Seattle that gave the first glimpse of serendipity in online library searching which lets you see all the books that have recently been checked out on a particular subject. Beautiful and Exciting.

Vital Statistics

Floating Titles

Dot Matrix Rain

Other observations:

"New piece for Central Library pushes art to the technical edge" in Seattle Post Intelligencer

Information Aesthetics profile

### thinking out loud  09.15.2005, 4:04 PM

on sunday one of my colleagues, kim white, posted a short essay on if:book, Losing America, which eloquently stated her horror at realizing how far america has slipped from its oft-stated ideals of equality and justice. as kim said "I thought America (even under the current administration) had something to do with being civilized, humane and fair. I don't anymore."

kim ended her piece with a parenthetical statement:
(The above has nothing and everything to do with the future of the book.)

the four of us met around a table in the institute's new williamsburg digs yesterday and discussed why we thought kim's statement did or didn't belong on if:book. the result -- a resounding YES.

if you've been reading if:book for awhile you've probably encountered the phrase, "we use the word book to refer to the vehicle humans use to move big ideas around society." of course many, if not most books are about entertainment or personal improvement, but still the most important social role of books (and their close dead-tree cousins, newspapers, magazines etc.) has been to enable a conversation across space and time about the crucial issues facing society.

we realize that for the institute to make a difference we need to be asking more the right questions.although our blog covers a wide-range of technical developments relating to the evolution of communication as it goes digital, we've tried hard not to be simple cheerleaders for gee-whiz technology. the acid-test is not whether something is "cool" but whether and in what ways it might change the human condition.

which is why kim's post seems so pertinent. for us it was a wake-up call reinforcing our notion that what we do exists in a social, not a technological context. what good will it be if we come up with nifty new technology for communication if the context for the communication is increasingly divorced from a caring and just social contract. Kim's post made us realize that we have been underemphasizing the social context of our work.

as we discuss the implications of all this, we'll try as much as possible to make these discussions "public" and to invite everyone to think it through with us.

Posted by bob stein at 04:04 PM | Comments (2)
tags: blog , blogging , blogs , book , books , democracy , digital , ebook , hurricanekatrina , katrina , neworleans , politics , publishing , technology

### "bringing karaoke to literature"  09.15.2005, 3:47 PM

Shanghai Daily reports on a Chinese "mini novel" contest where writers submit bite-sized narratives (350 words or less) by text message.

Commenting on the contest, well-known writer Yu Hua says: "To hold the competition is like bringing 'karaoke' to literature. Before the invention of karaoke, there were only few people who could or would sing in public. Thanks to karaoke, anyone and everyone can sing in public whenever they feel like it. Now, thanks to the mobile phone, the same is true with writing.

The karaoke analogy is apt, and a bit scary.

(via textually)

Posted by ben vershbow at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Microlit , book , books , cellphone , china , chinese , karaoke , lit , literature , mini , mobile , mobilelit , novel , phone , writing

### "In the dark woods, on the sodden ground, I found my way only by the white of his collar."  09.14.2005, 5:30 PM

Someone is blogging Kafka's diaries, from 1910 to 1923. They're still in the first year. Either it started recently, or lost steam early at some undetermined date (the editor has opted to remove datelines from posts). Any dates added by Kafka himself are of course retained. Archives are organized by year within the span of the diaries.

I subscribed to the feed to see if it keeps updating (they're using a recent version of Movable Type - more recent than ours - so I bet things are active). It could be a nice way to read these.

There's also a blog of the diary of Samuel Pepys, which seems to have been chugging along for about two years. A nice touch is that instead of comments they have "annotations." A quick glance reveals that quite a number of people are participating in this reading.

update: Another good book blogging experiment worth checking out is Bryan Alexander's Dracula Blogged - "Bram Stoker's vampire novel, published by its own calendar" - which will conclude sometime in November. A particularly clever choice, since Dracula is largely written in letters and journal entries.

Posted by ben vershbow at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)
tags: blog , blogging , blogs , book , books , diaries , diary , franzkafka , kafka , lit , literature , pepys , reading , samuelpepys

### katrina and the interactive atlas  09.07.2005, 12:31 PM

Interactive maps help those of us not in the region to grasp the terrain of devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. These maps are suggestive of a new paradigm for the digital page - an interactive canvas, or territory, through which the reader can zoom through orders of magnitude.

Most talked about is the "visual wiki" at scipionus.com - a re-tooling of Google maps that invites users to post tabs with information pertaining to specific locales (as fine-grained as streetcorners). Tabs are editable and are supposed to be used only for concrete reports, though many have posted pleas for news of specific missing persons or of the condition of certain blocks. Some samples:

"Saw news video 9/2/05 of corner street sign at 10th St. & Pontchartrain Blvd. Water level was about 6 in. below. green street signs."

"the Ashley's are in Prattville AL"

"4400 Calumet -- dry on Weds?"

"as of 5:00 pm.. the streets from wilson canal to transcontinental are COMPLETELY DRY! source from somebody who stayed and called to tell us the info."

"Dylan Nash anyone?? call 919-7307018"

The maps include post-Katrina satellite imagery, which reveals, upon zooming in, horrifying grids of inundated streets, stadiums filled up like soup tureens, city parks transformed into swamps. Wired recently ran a piece about sciponius.

Before & After:

I was also impressed by the interactive maps on washingtonpost.com.

Click on spinning wheels at various points along the coastline and windows pop up with scrolling panoramic shots. Quite stunning. You can click the screen and drag the scroll in either direction, stop it, speed it up, and even pull it up and down to reveal glimpses of the sky or ground. Photojournalism is given new room to play on online newspapers.

Posted by ben vershbow at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)
tags: atlas , book , books , digital , ebook , googlemaps , gulfcoast , hurricanekatrina , interactive , journalism , katrina , map , maps , media , neworleans , photo , photojournalism , reading , sciponius

### the selected, annotated outbox of dave eggers  09.05.2005, 1:52 PM

Email killed the practice of letter-writing so suddenly that we haven't a chance to think about the consequences. The Times Book Review ran an essay this weekend on the problem this poses for literary historians, biographers and archivists, who long have relied on collected letters and papers to fill in the gaps between a writer's published work. In the same review, the Times covers a new biography of the legendary critic Edmund Wilson largely based on his correspondences, and last week covered a new collection of the letters of poet James Wright. Letters are often treated as literature in themselves.

But a crop of writers is working now whose papers are not in order. The email is rotting away on the network, unorganized, not backed-up, and, to a great extent, simply being lost for good. I actually mused about this in a post last month about an email archive visualization tool by Fernanda Viégas at M.I.T.'s Sociable Media Group that shows years of electronic correspondence as sedimentary levels in a mountain-like mass. And a mountain it is. One novelist I know in Washington has her office stacked high with milk crates containing printouts of each and every email she sends and receives, no matter how trivial. There has to be a better way.

There isn't necessarily anything less rich about email correspondence. It excels at capturing a vibrant volley of words with great immediacy, whereas paper letters permit deeper communiques, fewer and father between. But in some cases, these characterizations do not hold up. With reliable postal service, letters can fly back and forth quite rapidly. And just because an email suddenly appears in your box does not mean that it will be immediately read, let alone replied to. Sometimes we write long email letters, expecting that the receiver is busy and will take time to reply. These differences, true and false, are worth evaluating.

But if collected emails are to become a literary tool, there is no question that we will need more reliable ways of archiving and preserving digital correspondence. We will also need new editorial approaches for collecting and publishing them. A printed volume, or series of volumes, might be insufficient for presenting a massive 4 gigabyte email archive by Dave Eggers (No one wants to read the phone book from cover to cover). And according to the Times piece, Eggers' agent Andrew Wylie is mulling over such a project. What would make more sense is an electronic edition that is essentially a selected or complete annotated Eggers Outbox, with folders and tags provided for categorization, a powerful search function, and the ability to organize according to your own interests. There would also be browsing and skimming tools that would allow a reader to move rapidly across vast tracts of correspondence and still find what they are looking for. And maybe, a way to email the author yourself and become a part of the living archive.

Posted by ben vershbow at 01:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
tags: archive , book , books , computers , correspondence , digital , digital_literature , ebook , eggers , email , epistle , inbox , letter , literary , literature , mail , reading , webmail

### the blog as a record of reading  08.22.2005, 2:11 PM

An excellent essay in last month's Common-Place, "Blogging in the Early Republic" by W. Caleb McDaniel, examines the historical antecedents of the present blogging craze, looking not to the usual suspects - world shakers like Martin Luther and Thomas Paine - but to an obscure 19th century abolitionist named Henry Clarke Wright. Wright was a prolific writer and tireless lecturer on a variety of liberal causes. He was also "an inveterate journal keeper," filling over a hundred diaries through the course of his life. And on top of that, he was an avid reader, the diaries serving as a record of his voluminous consumption. McDaniel writes:

While private, the journals were also public. Wright mailed pages and even whole volumes to his friends or read them excerpts from the diaries, and many pages were later published in his numerous books. Thus, as his biographer Lewis Perry notes, in the case of Wright, "distinctions between private and public, between diaries and published writings, meant little."

Wright's journaling habit is interesting not for any noticeable impact it had on the politics or public discourse of his day; nor (at least for our purposes) for anything particularly memorable he may have written. Nor is it interesting for the fact that he was an active journal-keeper, since the practice was widespread in his time. Wright's case is worth revisiting because it is typical -- typical not just of his time, but of ours. It tells a strikingly familiar story: the story of a reader awash in a flood of information.

Wright, in his lifetime, experienced an incredible proliferation of printed materials, especially newspapers. The print revolution begun in Germany 400 years before had suddenly gone into overdrive.

Wright's journaling was his way of metabolizing this deluge of print, and his story draws attention to a key aspect of blogging that is often overshadowed by the more popular narrative - that of the latter-day pamphleteer, the lone political blogger chipping away at mainstream media hegemony. The fact is that most blogs are not political. The star pundits that have risen to prominence in recent years are by no means representative of the world's roughly 15 million bloggers. Yet there is one crucial characteristic that is shared by all of them - by the knitting bloggers, the dog bloggers, the macrobiotic cooking bloggers, along with the Instapundits and Daily Koses: they are all records of reading.

The blog provides a means of processing and selecting from an overwhelming abundance of written matter, and of publishing that record, with commentary, for anyone who cares to read it. In some cases, these "readings" become influential in themselves, and multiple readers engage in conversations across blogs. But treating blogging first as a reading practice, and second as its own genre of writing, political or otherwise, is useful in forming a more complete picture of this new/old phenomenon. To be sure, today's abundance makes the surge in 18th century printing look like a light sprinkle. But the fundamental problem for readers is no different. Fortunately, blogs provide us with that much more power to record and annotate our readings in a way that can be shared with others. We return to Bob's observation that something profound is happening to our media consumption patterns.

As McDaniel puts it:

...readers, in a culture of abundant reading material, regularly seek out other readers, either by becoming writers themselves or by sharing their records of reading with others. That process, of course, requires cultural conditions that value democratic rather than deferential ideals of authority. But to explain how new habits of reading and writing develop, those cultural conditions matter as much—perhaps more—than economic or technological innovations. As Tocqueville knew, the explosion of newspapers in America was not just a result of their cheapness or their means of production, any more than the explosion of blogging is just a result of the fact that free and user-friendly software like Blogger is available. Perhaps, instead, blogging is the literate person’s new outlet for an old need. In Wright’s words, it is the need "to see more of what is going on around me." And in print cultures where there is more to see, it takes reading, writing, and association in order to see more.

(image: "old men reading" by nobody, via Flickr)

Posted by ben vershbow at 02:11 PM | Comments (1)
tags: Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , Transliteracies , article , blog , blogging , blogs , book , books , diary , ebook , essay , journal , journalism , media , newspaper , pamphleteer , paperless , print , reading , thomas_paine

### light reading  12.17.2004, 3:49 PM

"The Book as Object and Performance exhibition (through January 22 @ Gigantic Art Space in New York, curated by Sara Reisman) presents work by over 20 artists, each using the book as a point of departure to explore the physical, sensual or conceptual dimension of reading and the written word.

But despite lofty ambitions, the exhibit provides little more than light reading. Though several works are visually arresting, few do more than glide over the potentially bottomless themes at hand. Most stick to playful reorganization of materials: a pile of wooden hoops culling newspaper headlines from around the globe; a precarious tower of books with a gaping acid-chewed hole at the top; a doorway filled with crumpled sheets of paper; a dictionary with words dislocated from their definitions. A collection of small, easily forgotten pleasures.

An exception to this is a mysterious piece titled "Perseverance" by Jenny Perlin consisting of a small, worn book in a glass case, above which plays a strange film of man battling anxiety, chewing his nails to the quick. Also memorable was a one-night-only "reading" of the ten commandments by Polish-born artist Maciej Toporowicz, a piece first performed in communist Poland in 1980, and part of small program of live explorations last night, filling out the "performance" part of the equation. The gallery lights are extinguished and Toporowicz takes his place in front of an illuminated glass bowl of water, perched atop an open Bible. He places his face in the water, as though reading through the aqueous medium, and remains there long enough for the audience to start imagining.. what? That he is drowning in this sacred, much-abused text? That he is drawing impossible sustenance from its power? He begins to twitch and tremble. Finally his head rips up out of the water, gasping.

The photo above shows bottles containing philosophical texts that have been literally chewed up and spit out. Click below to see more pictures from the exhibition...

Posted by ben vershbow at 03:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
tags: The Performing Book , art , book , book_craft , books , conferences_and_excursions , exhibition , gallery , manhattan , new_york

### Children and Books: Forming a World-View  12.14.2004, 9:44 PM

When I think about the part books played (and still play) in forming my world-view, I have to think about them as tethered to a set of circumstances. It is impossible to say, for example, whether it was Gardner’s Art Through the Ages that awakened my passion for visual art, or my teacher Gretchen Whitman, who introduced the book to me and led me through it.

The book is part of a matrix that is difficult to parse. How is one’s world-view formed? Certainly books are a part of the process, but maybe they function more as “tools” then as “beings.” Insofar as they are extensions of the people or circumstances that drove us to them. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that very few of these lists are the same.

It’s interesting that nobody confesses that children’s books formed their world-view. I was profoundly influenced by the books I read when I was a child. The Little House on the Prairie series, and the Wizard of Oz still resonate with me. Dorothy and Laura Ingalls were pioneers—girl scouts, who were always prepared and never complained. They were independent, pragmatic survivors. I'm not saying this is the best collection of virtues one could strive for, but, nevertheless I recognize them in myself and think they were engendered, to some extent, by those books. Also, I must mention the fantastic strangeness of Dr. Seuss (who prepared me for surrealism), Maurice Sendack, Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson.

Children’s books are there at the beginning, digging into our consciousness. The fact that children must, initially, be read to, illuminates something about how the book functions for humans. My son is 14 months old and he loves books. That is because his grandmother sat down with him when he was six months old and patiently read to him. She is a kindergarten teacher, so she is skilled at reading to children. She can do funny voices and such. My son doesn’t know how to read, he barely has a notion of what story is, but his grandmother taught him that when you open a book and turn its pages, something magical happens—characters, voices, colors—I think this has given him a vague sense of how meaning is constructed. My son understands books as objects printed with symbols that can be translated and brought to life by a skilled reader. He likes to sit and turn the pages of his books and study the images. He has a relationship with books, but he wouldn’t have that if someone hadn’t taught him. My point is, even after you learn to read, the book is still part of a complex system of relationships. It is almost a matter of chance, in some ways, which books are introduced to you and opened to you by someone.

I think people who are resistant to electronic books worry that this intimacy will be lost in a non-paper format. But clearly, it’s not the object itself, it’s the meaning brought to it by and through people. The medium won’t really change that.

Posted by Kim White at 09:44 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Education , Thought Experiments , books , childhood , children , literacy , reading

### books behind bars - the Google library project  12.14.2004, 4:34 PM

How useful will this service be for in-depth research when copyrighted books (which will account for a huge percentage of searchable texts) cannot be fully accessed? In such cases, a person will be able to view only a selection of pages (depending on agreements with publishers), and will find themselves bombarded with a variety of retail options. On a positive note, the search will be able to refer the user to any local libraries where the desired book is available, but still, the focus here remains squarely on digital texts as simply a means of getting to print texts.

Absent a major paradigm shift with regard to the accessibility and inherent virtue of electronic texts, this ambitious project will never achieve its full potential. For someone searching outside the public domain, the Google library project may amount to nothing more than a guided tour through a prison of incarcerated texts. I've found this to be true so far with Google Scholar - it turned up a lot of interesting stuff, but much of it was password protected or required purchase.

article in Filter: Google -- 21st Century Dewey Decimal System (washingtonpost.com)

Posted by ben vershbow at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

### Live from "Scholarship in the Digital Age" Conference at USC: The New Story  12.10.2004, 2:53 PM

Scholarship in the Digital Age
This morning’s presentations got me thinking more about the narrative of the future—the multilayered, accreted story style that John Seely Brown referred to. How is that story going to be told and received? Will the novel become the dinosaur of alphabetic literacy?

Is the new book going to be a game, conversation, multi-layered, multi-authored, highly mutable and never-ending story? Assuming that the story is a conceptual device the culture uses to deconstruct reality, to make meaning, and to create, in some cases, a kind of anthem to rally around, what happens when our traditional narrative structures are replaced? If the single author, plot-driven novel is not the form of the future, then what do you get when you ask a million gamer/authors to shape an epic on the fly? What happens to our perception of reality if our stories are unstable, mutable, and open source?

Posted by Kim White at 02:53 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Games , USC , book , books , conference , conferences_and_excursions , john_seely_brown , linearity , literacy , narrative , open_source , plot , story

### NYPL ebook collection leaves much to be desired  12.10.2004, 1:51 PM

I just checked out two titles from the New York Public Library's ebook catalog, only to learn, to my great astonishment, that those books are now effectively "checked out," and cannot be downloaded again by anyone else until my copies time out.

It boggles the mind that NYPL would go to the trouble of establishing a collection of electronic titles, only to wipe out every advantage offered by digital texts. In fact, they do more than simply keep the ebooks on the level of print, they limit them further than that, since there are generally multiple copies of most print titles in the NYPL system.

The people responsible for this catalog have either entirely failed to grasp the concept of infinitely accessible, screen-based books, or they grasp it all too well and are trying to stunt it at its inception, perhaps out of fear of extinction of the print librarian. More likely, they are under heavy pressure by a paranoid copyright regime. Whatever the reason, the new ebook catalog shows a total lack of imagination and offers nearly no tangible benefit for the reader.

Beyond that, the books themselves are poorly designed and unpleasant to read. My downloaded copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (which, by the way, I found in the "Romance" section) evidences no more than ten minutes worth of design work, and appears to be simply a cut-and-pasted ASCII file from Gutenberg with a garish graphic slapped on the cover. My copy of Chain of Command by Seymour Hersh was a bit more respectable – more or less a pdf facsimile of the print edition.

On an amusing note, the "literary criticism" section is populated almost entirely by Cliff's Notes.

Posted by ben vershbow at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)
tags: DRM , Libraries, Search and the Web , books , copyright , design , e-publishing , ebook , ebooks , internet , libraries , library , manhattan , new_york , publishing

### 3,000 electronic titles at new york public library  12.09.2004, 2:26 AM

This is the third Times article this week on e-books. What's happening?

"Libraries Reach Out, Online"

No Need to Click Here - we're just claiming our feed at Feedster

Posted by ben vershbow at 02:26 AM | Comments (0)
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , books , ebook , ebooks , library , new_york

### An Exchange With Alan Kay  12.08.2004, 5:39 PM

Hi Bob –

I've been asked questions like this several times in the past, and have never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. I estimate that I've read between 15,000 and 20,000 books, with about 1/10th of these being really worthwhile, and perhaps another 1/10th or more really useful as "how not to think about it" that serve as a large field of comparative and contrasting ideas. I think a central answer to your question from me is that I would simply not have my world view if it weren't for books, and not just a few books but the wealth of multiple perspectives that the printing press made possible and encouraged.

The most important events in my life were learning how to read fluently before school age, and having read many books by the time I got to the constricting dogmas of school learning. This allowed me to resist and to gradually build my own mind, again largely through reading. I believe this is also an important answer to much of the good that has happened in the last 400 years. It's hard to pick 3 books that changed the world, but there is no doubt in my mind that the combination of new kinds of argumentation and many more points of view from thousands of books broke apart a lot of the rigidity of thought that has characterized most of human existence. Sorry, best I can do ...

P.S. If you had to pick one for the 17th century, it would be Newton's Principia Mathematica. I came upon this in my late 20s or early 30s and it would be my pick for the number one "amazing book" ever written. However, my course and POV were already set by the time I actually got around to buying and reading it.

Cheers, Alan

to which Bob replied:

So . . . do you think books are playing the same role today as they did 40-50 years ago when we were growing up? My instinct is no . . . but even if i'm right, i'm not sure if it is because times are different or because the media landscape has changed so dramatically.

to which Alan replied:

No [in answer to “do you think books are playing the same role today ... ] and I think that much of the new technology in the 20th and 21st centuries has been used to automate old oral forms (telephone, radio, movies, TV, voice mail, etc.) and this has taken quite a bit of day to day reading and writing out of most peoples' lives. We are wired for oral discourse and most are happy to stay there. The larger scheme of things was greatly aided by having writing be the only long distance replicable technology around for a long time -- and given that only 1% in Europe in 1400 could read, it really took the printing press to spread the hard to learn and literally mind-changing technology around sufficiently.

Also, McLuhan and Postman were pretty much right: that TV, especially, is a media form that delivers a 24 hour wall to wall environment that seems total, but lacks many important message carrying (and carrier) properties that the "written symbolic" media has. So, it's not that TV actually tells people how to think, but, as an environment, it is what people try to learn to be fluent in and adapt to, and this makes it difficult for most people to formulate non-TV kinds of thoughts (many of which have been critical to the development of the last 400 years). And TV is much easier to "learn". In simple: if you don't read and think for fun, you won't be fluent enough to read and think for purpose. This is why, when asked, I advise parents to treat TV and other similar media (including computer) like a cabinet of loaded guns or liquor. Locking it up is good, but not having in the house is probably better. But, since they are avid TV watchers and non-readers themselves, this advice has no effect. I think things are getting worse in part because TV is progressively making many more bad ideas seem normal.

Cheers, Alan

...and again, later on...

Hi Bob --Your questions got me thinking about certain books over the years. I stand by my earlier claim that it was the totality of many many books that did the job on me. But, still, there were a few, especially some very early ones that got me thinking one way and not another. For example, the first adult book I read all the way through -- maybe at age 4 – was my father's copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I originally read it because I had gotten interested in the ancient Greeks (he was quite interested). But the last part of the book contained Norse myths and these were in some cases similar to the Greek ones. This got me to realize that these were just stories and needed more than claims to back them up. This helped tremendously in resisting the Bible during later attempts to force this on me. Another early book was a long one, also my Dad's, Breasted's Ancient Times, maybe read at age 6 or 7. Again, I originally started reading it because I though ancient (and "lost") civilizations were cool (and loved the different architectures, etc.). But, I started to realize that human beings are driven to similar forms under similar conditions, etc. This led me to Anthropology later on.

Cheers, Alan

Posted by ben vershbow at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)
tags: Education , Thought Experiments , alan_kay , book , books , free_thought , reading

### Three Books That Influenced Your Worldview: The List  12.07.2004, 5:06 PM

Yesterday I was thinking about the fact that books were the crucial element in the formation of my world view and wondered if that is the case with younger people. My guess yesterday morning was that people over 40 would easily come up with a list of books that influenced their way of looking at the world. Also - and this was probably the key idea I was testing - I assumed that when baby boomers came of age, specifc books (let's say a dozen titles) were a crucial element in a shared cultural zeitgeist. By contrast, today I don't see particular titles dominating the scene as they did 35 years ago.

Well . . . turns out I was pretty much wrong, at least as far as the 100+ people in my 40+ and 35- sample groups were concerned. Very few titles made it on to more than one list and I don't see dramatic differences in the lists based on age.

One remarkable fact which you'll notice when you look at the lists is the fantastic diversity in print culture. One can only dream that we will one day have such rich variety among works which are born digital.

This experiment of course hints at the bigger question: are books as important today in terms of forming world view as they were 35-40 years ago, and if not, what is taking their place? Most importantly: if not, what effect does the shift in dominant media have on the creation of world view?

If this gets anyone's juices flowing, we'd love to have suggestions about how to explore these questions further.

THE LIST:

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Norman O. Brown Life Against Death
Paul Goodman Growing Up Absurd

The Universal Traveler, Koberg and Bagnall
Summerhill, A.S. Neill
The Whole Earth Catalog

1. Ayn Rand's _Anthem_ (I know, I know...liberal me shouldn't like such
things; but it came to me in a period that I needed to hear it was OK to
stand up to evil things going on all around me).

2. Mark Twain's _Letters from the Earth_ (his very dark, late writings that
completely transformed how I looked upon human belief and action)

3. Kenneth Burke's _Language as Symbolic Action_ (I didn't encounter this
one until graduate school, but his definition of man--"the symbol-using &
symbol-misusing animal"--has been indespensible on understanding things like
the latest election...).

merleau-ponty 'the visible and the invisible'
simon critchley 'on humour'

tho i might say that william gibson's 'neuromancer' ranks closely as
formative through being what i resist rather than embrace

1984, George Orwell
Independence Day, Richard Ford
The Marketing Imagination, Theodore Levitt

Communist Manifesto
Story of O
Masterpieces of French Cooking

Mysterious Island, Jules Verne
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Candy, Terry Southern

Language, Thought, and Reality
(Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Psycholinguist)
The Tao Te Ching
The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty Soetsu Yanagi

here are three that come to mind, for different reasons, in the order I

Boris Vian, L'Écume des jours
Jean-Paul Sartre, Les Chemins de la Liberté
Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

In Dubious Battle/John Steinbeck
Feeling & Form/Susanne K. Langer
The Art of memory/Frances B. Yates

beckett waiting for godot
kuhn structure of scientific revolutions
wallace stevens the necessary angel

Life After God - Douglas Coupland
Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Rebel - Albert Camus

early books would be People's History of the united states and the underside of american history collection and probably some literary work like Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations.

Catcher in the Rye, Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Katie John-- Mary Calhoun, A book for adolescents about a tomgirl who lived in a brick house in Mississippi and was a bit of a female Huck Finn.

books I read young enough that they may actually have had an impact on my
world view:
Little Women
Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (well, the early parts) (James Joyce)

books that were crucial in forming my world view because they led to a
violent rejection, at least at first:
S/Z (Roland Barthes)
House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)

poets who helped to form my sensibility:
Rilke (Duino Elegies)
Shakespeare (Hamlet)
Christopher Smart
Lucie Brock-Broido

books that had a big impact but partly because I spent time learning about
them:
the dictionary / the OED / History of the English Language
the works of Anna Trapnel (obscure 17th c. prophet)
Vas de Caminha

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

To Kill A Mockingbird
Catcher in the Rye
Beloved

1. Karl Marx - Capital (honest!)
2. Georges Bataille - Visions of Excess
3. Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States

bonus two:

4. David Harvey - The Condition of Postmodernity
5. Mike Davis - City of Quartz

Female Man by Joanna Russ
The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckman

Hegel, Phenomenology of MInd
Virginia Woolf, Waves
Rilke, Duino Elegies

100 Years of Solitude
Executioner's Song
Howard's End

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance
When God Was a Woman

i'll bet all of the men list Catcher in the Rye. ;-)

with apologies...
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (probably the same for architects but who would ever admit it?)
Catch 22 by Kurt Vonnegut (which is why i understood that i could put the Fountainhead first)
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard (which took me to structuralism and politics before I knew it)

Franny & Zooey - Salinger
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Be Here Now - Ram Dasst

to kill a mockingbird
the sun also rises
a doll's house (okay, it's a play, but still...)

all of Plato
Magic Mountain
Birth of Tragedy

Rem Koolhaas's DELIRIOUS NEW YORK
Elaine Scarry's THE BODY IN PAIN
Joyce's PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST...

Genet by Edmund White
Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

Against Nature - Huysmans
Morris's Disappearing Bag - Rosemary Wells
Universe - Freedman & Kaufmann

Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler)
The Long-Distance Runner (Michael Harrington)
Don Quixote (Cervantes)

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
WCWilliams' Paterson
Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning

Ulysses, James Joyce
Behavior in Public Places, Erving Goffman
The Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels

Camus, The Rebel & L'etranger (count as one book ... read in Jr. High)
Old Testament, New Testament, Koran, Gita (count as one book ... read in High School)
Falukner, Yoknapatawpha Co novels ... read in HS & college (actually lots of different books could have gone in this slot ... Blake, Ginsberg, Kesey, Hemingway, Hesse, etc. come to mind ....)

Zorba the Greek
Call It Sleep
Crime and Punishment

D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
The Book of Genesis
William Butler Yeats: Collected Poems (specific ones: Leda and the Swan, The Second Coming, A Prayer For My Daughtar, The Collar-Bone of a Hare, Under Ben Bulben,Lapis Lazuli, The Circus Animals' Desertion, and so many others).

I've listed three books that had, shall we say, an "early" influence and then three books that have been part of a more "mid-life" re-arrangement of this world view:

Three formative books:

1. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams
2. Tristan Tzara, "Dadaist Manifesto" (not a book) along with Lao Tze, Way of the Tao
3. Nabokov's Pale Fire

Three RE-formative books:
1. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey
2. Hardt & Negri, Empire
3. Virilio, War and Cinema

Charlotte's Web
Summerhill
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Big 3 books:

-- In college years, Jack Kerouac, beginning with "On the Road" and moving to " Dharma Bums," "Visions of Cody," "Big Sur," and "Dr. Sax." The whole beat category had the greatest single impact on me in the pre-Vietnam years. But if a single book of the batch has to be named, it's "On the Road." Not the best, but the one that put the rest on the map.

— young adult, Thoreau's "Walden Pond," "Civil Disobedience," and essays

— after 40, Jerry Mander's "In the Absence of the Sacred"

Thomas Mann's " The Magic Mountain
Arthur Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine,

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Woman by Natalie Angiers
Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut

Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
The Killer Angels, Michael Schaara
Nory Ryan's Song, Patricia Reilly Giff

the truly disadvantaged by william julius Wilson
my varian microeconomics textbook
catcher in the rye.

Forming my world view huh?
Well, just to warn you, you're not going to get my favorite books or one's that I would necessarily recommend to others,
Respond back if you meant novels, more contemporary works, or were looking for an answer with greater utility. I can make lists all day.
but answering the question as literally as possible...

Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil
Gottlieb Frege - The Foundations of Arithmetic
Emile Durkheim - The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

HARD QUESTION, perhaps:
El Quijote
Proust's In Search of Lost Time
Neruda's Canto general.

However
Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment
The Arabian Nights
Mann's The Magic Mountain
Plato's Dialogues
Hesse's Siddartha

and much more. Take your pick, I can't.

nikos kazanzakis, Report to Greco
tolstoy, war and peace
michel foucault, the birth of the clinic

Camus The Stranger (big bang in high school, not sure how i came across it but remember my father recommending i put it aside and read augustine instead)

Aristotle Poetics along with Pre-Socratic fragments (freshman year, raptured by how the ancients put the world together)

Henry James Portrait of a Lady (while hitchhiking through europe and sleeping in train stations, it emboldened me to think i could put my own life together how i pleased. tho, when i reread it in my 40's it was an entirely different book)

Malcolm X Speaks (the first book I ever read that talked about a world as I saw it—found it when I was about 18)

Mao Tse Tung Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art (actually the book is Mao on Lit and Art. But the essay was most important. It spoke to questions I was trying to solve within my art as a young artist. Then I began to get into how he is really exploring questions of work in a united front under the leadership of the proletariat. I literally read the cover off the book I read it so many times)

Dictatorship and Democracy and the Socialist Transition to Communism by Bob Avakian. Though this is a very recent book it is quit challenging and it encouraged me to deeply question some fundamental assumptions that I had held about Marxist theory and practice.
Because I have trouble counting, I want to put Beloved by Toni Morrison on the list. It is the most amazing piece of literature ever written. It doesn’t form worldview in quite the same way as “political theory” but I wouldn’t be the same person without having read this book.

geneaology of morals -- nietzsche
epitaph of a small winner -- machado de assis
birds of america -- lorrie moore

The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
Fanshen, William Hinton
Constantine Cavafy, Poems

It's tough to narrow it down, of course. I guess The Invisible Man, The Bright Shining Lie (Neal Sheehan as I recall) and A Room of One's Own. As achild I read everything James Thurber wrote several times over. So I guess that would count for the absurdist streak that still reigns over all --but the formative stuff was all about injustice and deception.

The Book of Job
At 42, Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival
When I was 17, Joseph Conrad, Victory
When I was 27, Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

this is a difficult request. my list isn't very stable. three books i keep returning to are,
society of the spectacle by guy debord
illuminations by walter benjamin
and lastly the publications of semiotext(e), particularlly the foreign agents series. these little books are wonderful. favorite titles include, speed and politics by paul virilio, nomadology by deleuze and guattari, communiist like us by negri and guattari. if i had to reduce this down to one book it would be the recently published hatred of capitalism/a semiotext(e) reader, edited by chris kraus and sylvere lotringer.

a bonus pick hit just for the pleasure of the rant is t.a.z. the temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchy, poetic terrorism by hakim bey

the Torah
The writings of Rumi
plays of Shakespeare

most recently -
Golas' The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment
a while ago
Watzlawick, Weakland, Fisch - CHANGE

and a long time ago
The Wind and the Willows

samule beckett murphy, molloy, waiting for godot

Richard Dawkins- The blind watchmaker
Edward O. Wilson- On human nature
Steven Pinker- The language instinct

A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
The Soong Dynasty, by Sterling Seagrave

I guess I'd really have to say that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was huge for me. I know that's not massively intellectual but it was the first time I cut class (stayed in the dorm 3 days and devoured the whole thing). It shaped my views about courage, among other things. It's so pop now that it may not count.

More seriously speaking, you are probably going to chuckle, but Alan Watts' The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are was seriously formative. Going back earlier still, Stranger in a Strange Land was a huge deal when I was a teenager, and I've re-read it several times since. Finally, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.

I could go on and on about formative fiction but somehow I suspect that's not where you're going with this. Discovering magical realism as a genre was almost as important to me as discovering science fiction. My favorite fiction authors are Louise Erdrich, Charles De Lint, and Sue Miller at the moment.

As a reader of plays it's hard to separate books out.

Hmmmmm, that's tough, but this morning I'll go for

1. Ulysses, Joyce: made me realize how vast eternity is if one day can be so large

2. St Joseph Sunday Missal, the standard Amercican Catholic prayer book of the 50s and 60s and likely still. Catholics didnt read the Bible as such, so the Sunday Gospels and Epistles (Latin facing English) are all upbeat New Testament stuff and I was largely unaware of the violent, vengeful, nasty God of the Old Testament. Jesus still sounds good, if you actually look at what he says.

3. Lolita, Nabokov. At 20 I was only dimly aware of the scandal of older Hum with teenie Lo: the fun of the language and dark hilarity of the hero were enough to tip me permanently into life as satire.

Bible
Invisible Man
One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thought and Action by Stuart Hampshire
The Hidden INjuries of Class by Sennet and Cobb
Capital by Karl Marx
The Informed Heart by Bruno Bettelheim,

oops over already and that does not include fiction and works about love, sex and etc.

I guess Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth qualifies.
That's one.

Discovering Paul Valery's notebooks and M. Teste was monumental.
That's two.

In lieu of a third, you get the list including authors that were more affirmative than formative:
Borges (Labyrinth, Fictions)
Diderot (Jaques Le Fatalist)
Didion (everything, but especially White Album) and
Nabokov (Speak Memory if I had to pick)
Cortazar (Hopscotch)

wait, I forgot an entire category:
the classic dystopias I read in junior high:

Animal Farm
1984
Lord of the Flies
not to mention The Diary of Anne Frank ...

one more category:
the civil rights lit from the 60's:
Black Like Me (no one reads that or even knows about it any more)
Soul on Ice
Autobiography of Macolm X

They qualify as formative, but they never come to mind when I get these questions.

Crime and Punishment: the complexity of ethics
Anna Karenina: how tragic love is
Marjorie Morningstar: how not to marry a boring guy

off the top of my head i can think of john berger's ways of seeing. parts of the old testament are also pretty powerful to me. as are many companion books of feminist theology... i could say 'standing again at sinai' by plaskow.. and there were years of holocaust related books which informed my world view alot. it's hard to narrow it down... of course.. just here to help!

Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm
Don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantez
The Prince by Machiavelli
The Odyseey by Homer

"Sex, Time and Power" by Leonard Shlain
"Constantine's Sword" by James Carroll
"The Origins of Consciousness in The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by
Julian Jaynes
"The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra
"The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram
"The Holgraphic Universe" by Michael Talbot

The Count of Monte Cristo
A History of the 20th Century (still reading)
The Stranger

Michael Strogoff (Jules Verne)
Niels Holgerson's Wonderful Journey (Selma Lagerlof)
The Red and the Black (Stendhal)

As a child, I was mesmerized by fairy tales, Aesoph's ables and Greek mysthology, loved Tom Sawyer and the Wizard of Oz, books by Erich Kaestner, as well as a
bunch of Croatian books.

As a teenager, up to my mid twenties I was very drawn to dark, existentialist literature. My favorite book of all times is "The Return of Filip Latinovicz," a
brilliant Croatian book by Miroslav Krleza, the best author we ever had. Also, I was extremely shaken up by "Kinder von dem Banhoff Zoo" by Christianne F. And
for good reason.

Then much later the Tao Te Ching came my way and I immediately connected on it very deeply. Never been the same since. Guess Hesse's books also had a pretty
deep influence on my, particularly since my father was very fond of them too.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior.
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity

Gulliver's Travels
Don Quixote
Candide

"nine stories," j.d. salinger
"self help," lorrie moore
"the portable dorothy parker" (her fiction is grievously underknown and
under-read; focus is placed on her poetry, which indeed was witty and clever, but her fiction was so much more than that ˜hugely sensitive and insightful, as well as angry and politically/socially astute)

is it strange that these 3 "world-view forming" books are works of fiction? and not overtly political? nowadays, i'm reading more nonfiction than fiction, and almost everything i'm reading is politically oriented. but when i was a teenager/ college student, my leisure reading was fiction mostly.

when does a world view form, anyway? when are we officially finished forming one? i was fairly politically active in college; then i basically slept through the entire clinton administration, and through most of bush the elder, too; but in recent years i've read more and done more, in terms of politics and activism, than i ever had before. and i'd say i'm more to the left than i used to be˜or maybe it's that the democrats, in whom i used to place a decent amount of faith, are more to the right than they used to be. ˜when i went to sleepaway camp at age 12, there was a vegetarian meal-plan option, and i picked it. i'd never been a vegetarian before and hadn't realized i was about to become one. but when presented with the choice of a good diet with meat or a good diet without meat, there was, for me, no question. i've been a vegetarian ever since. you could say that the meal-plan option changed my world view by showing me that if i did not have to eat meat if i didn't want to, an idea that, at 12, i hadn't yet grasped on my own.

"fear of flying" was one more world-view-shaping book for me, when i was 17 or so. seriously. it's known for the sex but honestly it is not very sexy, in my opinion: it is an honest, well-written, well-woven story of family, partnership, religion, autonomy, monogamy, ambition, and how to survive these things.

Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
Circles of Confusion by Hollis Frampton
The Divine Comedy by Dante

Though the early Marx, Benjamin's essays and he Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas H. Kuhn would be contenders as well.

I picked these because I was totally immersed in them (read them over and over and over) when I was very young. (I have a few books that I do that with as an adult too, but I don't think it's the same.) I actually don't know if these had any particular effect on my world view, but I figure they must have, because the exposure was constant and intense.

Before I could read: Goodnight Moon

Right after I learned how: a beautiful, large-format, illustrated Cinderella (I know. Yikes.) I don't know who the illustrator was or what the edition was. I could probably find out from my mother.

A couple of years after that: Mad magazine, supplied by my older brother

Narcissus and Goldmund
The Bible
A Soldier of the Great War

1. "A Pattern Language", Christopher Alexander et. al.
2. "On Growth and Form", D'Arcy Thompson
3. "Codex Seraphinianus", Luigi Serafini

it sort of depends on what stage of develoment of that view you are getting at. like the lion the which and the wardrobe has always been on my bookshelf since I was a kid. marshall mcluhan got me interested in what i do today . . . but now i don't find his books really relevant or even interesting. so i am not even sure how to answer this one, but here's a shot. i'm giving

1. The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility: The Ideas Behind the
World's Slowest Computer, Stewart Brand
2. The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord
3. Silence, John Cage
4. it's not a book but was like a book on tape for me - Laurie Anderson's box set
5. Andy Warhol Diaries

The Communist Manifesto _ Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Bersonism _ Guilles Deleuze

Doris Lessing, Golden Noteook
Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers
Carl Schorske, Fin-De-Siecle Vienna

grimus by salman rushdie
the bluest eye by toni morrison
a people's history of the united states by howard zinn

mont st. michele and chartres adams first edition (the book)
a timeless way of building christopher alexander
essentials in education rudolf steiner
medium is the massage mcluhan
the idea of / lovers discourse roland barthes

Brave New World
Catch –22
A Portrait of a Marriage

Film as a Subversive Art-- Amos Vogel
The Origin of the Family, private property and the state-Fred Engels
Amazon Odyssey--Ti-Grace Atkinson

Fanshen by William Hinton
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffith
Trotsky (3 volumes) by Isaac Deutcher
Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas (sad but true--but it was a way of getting to Aristotle)

Hard to remember back to when my world-view was forming, but
here's some things that had some influence (in all cases there were probably several books by the same author involved, I've picked one)

Abbie Hoffman: Revolution for the Hell of it
Hunter Thompson: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Then there's the books that started my obsession with quantum mechanics,
like Werner Heisenberg's "Physics and Beyond", but that's kind of a different story...

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
The Electronic Word, by Richard Lanham.

Stranger in a Strange Land (but only until I reached the age of 25)
100 Years of Solitude

Turning The Tide, Noam Chomsky
The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
Homage To Catalonia, George Orwell

A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars
Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner
Son Rise by Barry Kaufman

The Grapes of Wrath
The Diary of Anne Frank
Great Expectations

Walden (pond) h.d.thoreau
Lipstick Traces, greil marcus
Max Jamison wilford sheed

Melville, Moby-Dick (the power of metaphor/ambiguity)
Gaddis, The Recognitions (the place of artistic creation w/r/t forgery)
Joyce, Ulysses (structure & style, design)

Taylor Caldwell's Captains and Kings
Leon Uris's QB7
Orwell's Animal Farm

War and Peace by Tolstoy
The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez,
all because they take the long view on human nature.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Albert Camus, The Outsider
Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women

When books were still able to rock my world - that was in my teens.
So the first most shattering experience with reality (in Germany) was the follwing book I read in high school:

no1
Christiane F. – Wir Kinder From Bahnhof Zoo
(10 years later they made it into a stupid film)

much later: no2
Sculpting in Time, Andre Tarkovsky

much much later: no3

"The Book of Kings vol 2y" – Klaus Theweleit
ex aequo:
The Telephone Book – Avital Ronell

1. Marx, German Ideology
2. EP Thompson, Making of the English working class
3. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature
4. Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich and the Super Rich
I'm not sure that the last holds up but I remember being affected by it in reading it in the late 1960s when it first came out.

thomas kuhn, structure of scientific revoultions
john donne, devotions
william burroughs, naked lunch

Gulliver's Travels - Johnathan Swift
Gödel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter
Prometheus Rising - Robert Anton Wilson

for my early self
chronicles of narnia or the hobbit

for my college self
left hand of darkness

for my grad school self toss up between
discipline and punish:the birth of the prison, michel Foucault and
gender trouble, Judith butler
also: jeanette winterson's, the passion

Autobiography of Malcolm X
Summerhill
We the People, Leo Huberman
Golden Notebook
History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Jean Daubier

A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilbur
The Hydrogen Economy, Jeremy Rifkin
Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan
The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume II (The Power of
Identity), Manuel Castells

L'étranger, Camus
Neuromancer, Gibson
Distinction, Bourdieu

groups. for shaping how i see and interact with the world, i have 5. aside from the first they're in no particular order.

1) "men in dark times" by hannah arendt
2) "italian folktales" by italo calvino
3) "waiting for the barbarians" by j.m. coetzee
5) "self-reliance and other essays" by r. waldo emerson

Movement for a New America
Brecht on Theatre
The Free-Lance Pallbearers (Ishmael Reed)

Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Stephane Mallarme, Collected Poems

CS Lewis Narnia titles
How to Lie With Statistics
Austen/Pride and Prejudice
...Shakespeare, Kafka, Machiavelli

A giacometti portrait
Hemmingway's "In our Time"
and maybe Ulysees.

Proust, La Recherche;
Benjamin's Illuminations;
Flaubert'sSentimental Education.

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind - Suzuki Roshi
A General Theory of Love - Dr. Thomas Lewis
Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein
Ficciones -- Jorge Luis Borges (in college)
Breakfast of Champions -- Kurt Vonnegut (in high school)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day -- Judith Viorst
(as a youngster)

Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke)
On the Genealogy of Morals (Nietzsche)
Crash (J.G. Ballard)

a cool million by Nathaniel West
100 years of solitude, Marquez
Edie: an american biography. (edited by George Plimpton)

The Fourth Way - P.D. Ouspensky
The I Ching
Brother Karamazov – Dostoevsky

Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
Portnoy's Complaint – Philip Roth
We Would Like to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
Philip. Gourevitch (non-fiction about genocide in rwanda in '94)

Three books that have influenced my current weltanschauung (and when I read
them):

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (summer 2003)
2. American Woman by Susan Choi (winter 2004)
3. The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto (fall 2004)

Jürgen Habermas: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity;
Raplh Elison: Invisible Man
Harold Cruse: The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual

I chose my three on the basis that I already get
Freud thrown in... is that a deal??

The Alexandria Quartet. Lawrence Durrell. Actually first
published as four books initially...but also published as a
single volume very commonly..so I claim as one. Same story
four perspectives is not the same story

On Not Being able to Paint. Marion Milner. A diary of her
giving up trying to paint and draw according to
´'instruction manuals' and embarking on a road of art self
therapy.

Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. (Only read in
translation) stands in for all his writing that affected me
enormously as a student.

charlottes web,
Siddhartha
no exit

gaston bachelard, the poetics of space
salinger, catcher in the rye
nabokov, Lolita

T. H. White, The Goshawk
Anja Meulenbelt, The Shame Is Over
Aldous Huxley, Point CounterPoint

Travels With Charley
The Doh of Homer
Hiroshima

1. Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach

Little Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupery
Another, little gem, written for kids apparently, however meant to be read by adults. This book has thought me about the value of friendship, and what each side has to give for friendship. It is not something as granted! A friendship is like a rose, as Little Prince was told, you have to water it to keep it alive. We so frequently take friendship for granted, and yet there is somebody out there who may be waiting for our call, a sympathetic ear etc. Also, it has thought me that in a relationship, any date, one should be punctual and this is for the following reason, as a Rose has told to Little Prince .....you should come as you have told me, not with such long delay. I have prepared my heart for you, and I have been excitingly waiting for you for hours before the moment you were supposed to come. My excitement has been building prior to that hour. If you do not come as
promised, I will be disappointed, and worse, I will never know when to prepare my heart for you, so when you come I will be indifferent. These are not the actual words, however this is a message that has been living with me ever since I read the book...again in my high school days. As a matter of fact, I was with a friend in Boston in February, and I brought myself the book in English.

3. Difficult decision for the third place, I am in between Demian - Herman
Hesse and Crime and Punishment – Dostoyevsky I will tell you about both. Demian - my high school favorite, it tells you about the magic and power of your wish! If you wish something deeply, deeply, from the heart and you never, ever has any doubts, not even for a split second, it will happen, it will occur, you will make it. Guess why it was my high school favorite.....I would meet a guy that I would like, he would not like me, but I would implement the advice from Demian......I will leave odds of my success to tell you in person.
Crime and Punishment - I love that book for the way it makes you feel about
the poor, underprivileged people./ I just loved Raskolnikov, the murderer, and Sonia the prostitute. My whole heart went for them. I guess this book has thought me that not everything is black or white when people are concerned. I know that I may sound very opinionated on many occasions, however, believe me, I do not judge people for what they are doing. I could only say that I do not like it and would not do it + everybody, everybody, including the worst murderer, still has a bit of something nice, it is up to other people to find out about it......if you do not believe me than go and read Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse.

The Assistant, by Bernard Malamud
In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway
A Sentimental Education, Flaubert
Sadly also, Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut

bible
san mao ("three hairs")--chinese comic about impoverished, malnourished, semi-bald boy
the decisive moment--Henri Cartier-Bresson

Rudolf Otto's "Idea of the Holy" is hard to find these days, but was influential in terms of seeing "holy" as a broader thing than just Christianity.
I remember Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" moving me a lot in high school; made me think about all the development and urban sprawl issues more.
"Kenny's Window" by Maurice Sendak has come back to me again and again with different layers of meaning poking through.

The Bible
The Kama Sutra

To Kill a Mockingbird
The Sound and the Fury
Henderson the Rain King

"Beat The Turtle Drum" (a "young adult" book) — Life sucks, and people you care about die.
"The Grapes of Wrath" — Life sucks, then you either die or work much too hard.
"Blown Sideways Through Life" — Work sucks, and it can always suck more.

The Hitcher's Guide to the Galaxy, because it made writing seem fun and easy
Moby Dick, because it made writing seem laborious and futile
The Odyssey, because it is better told than written

Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse
Charles Dickens: David Copperfield

The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane Jacobs
Catch-22
Lies My Teacher Told Me

as for 3 books forming my "world view" that's hard to answer i guess (maybe easier when aimed at truer Young People?) so i will maybe swipe at a broad interpretation and guess The Little Engine That Could, Franny & Zooey, and a third to hopefully be determined by the end of this email.

let's see, my third. maybe the jungle? i'm having an awful time placing myself back in time. perhaps i'm trying too hard

1. Georg Lukacs, "The Theory of the Novel"
2. Jacques Derrida, "Limited Inc"
3. Woody Allen, "Without Feathers"

(postscript: oh, and of course Leviticus.)

When I think about the part books played (and still play) in forming my world view, I have to think about them as tethered to a set of circumstances. It is impossible to say, for example, whether it was Gardner’s Art Through the Ages that awakened my passion for visual art, or my teacher Gretchen Whitman, who introduced the book to me and led me through it.

The book is part of a matrix that is difficult to parse. How is one’s world view formed? Certainly books are a part of the process, but maybe they function more as “tools” then as “beings.” Insofar as they are extensions of the people or circumstances that drove us to them. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that very few of these lists are the same.

It’s interesting that nobody confesses that children’s books formed their world view. I was profoundly influenced by the books I read when I was a child. The Little House on the Prairie series, and the Wizard of Oz still resonate with me. Dorothy and Laura Ingalls were pioneers—girl scouts, who were always prepared and never complained. They were independent, pragmatic survivors. I'm not saying this is the best collection of virtues one could strive for, but, nevertheless I recognize them in myself and think, to some extent, they were engendered there by those books. Also, I must mention the fantastic strangeness of Dr. Seuss (who prepared me for surrealism), Maurice Sendack, Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson.

Children’s books are there at the beginning, digging into our consciousness. The fact that children must, initially, be read to, illuminates something about how the book functions for humans. My son is 14 months old and he loves books. That is because his grandmother sat down with him when he was six months old and patiently read to him. She is a kindergarten teacher, so she is skilled at reading to children. She can do funny voices and such. My son doesn’t know how to read, he barely has a notion of what story is, but his grandmother taught him that when you open a book and turn its pages, something magical happens—characters, voices, colors—I think he has a given him a vague sense of meaning. My son understands books as ojects printed with symbols that can be translated and brought to life by a skilled reader. He likes to sit and turn the pages of his books and study the images. He has a relationship with books, but he wouldn’t have that if someone hadn’t taught him. My point is, even after you learn to read, the book is still part of a complex system of relationships. It is almost a matter of chance, in some ways, which books are introduced to you and opened to you by someone.

I think people who are resistant to electronic books worry that this intimacy will be lost in a non-paper format. But clearly, it’s not the object itself, it’s the meaning brought to it by and through people. The medium won’t really change that.

Post childhood influence goes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. And the book of Ecclesiastes, which I read during a particularly disturbing and enlightening business trip to Hong Kong in the late 1980’s. I read Ecclesiastes several times during that three week trip, always late at night alone in my hotel room while eating spicy Indian food. I don’t know if it was the food or the book, but I would have the most astounding nightmares after those sessions.

Graham Greene once wrote that "it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives," and in that spirit I'd have to answer honestly that the list would have to include:
Jack London's The Sea Wolf
Palgrave's Golden Treasury
Howard Fast's Citizen Tom Paine

There was one book that came to mind immediately as a transformative book : Love's Body by Norman O. Brown. There are other books that I can think of as extremely enjoyable (100 Years of Solitude) or books that definitely shaped my thinking ( Childhood and Society by Erik Erikson; I and Thou by Martin Buber). But, at this moment, only Love's Body was "crucial".

Tao te Ching, by Lao Tzu
The Animal Rights Handbook, by Linda Fraser (have read other material since
buying this book at 16 but it was the most revolutionary - and shocking - to me because it was my first on the subject)
Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel

women's room by Marilyn french
middlemarch by george eliot
surfacing by margaret atwood

or more recently
middlesex by jeffrey eugenides

Lord of the Rings
Redwall (by Brian Jacques)
The Bible

urgent? is the book dying out that quickly?!?

jeez. in the interest of diversity, i'll name 3 philosophy books that have influenced my thinking; otherwise, i'd have a hard time answering such a tough and broad question:

kant's critique of pure reason
schopenhauer's the world as will and idea
kierkegaard's fear and trembling

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Dispatches by Michael Herr
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Sorry for the Vietnam focus, but I think both books belong on my list. The Herr because it so deftly lays out the folly of most wars, and the O'Brien because of what he says about more personal things, like love and courage.

Kind of like picking the three most important dandelions in a field, but:
Dune, Frank Herbert
The Essential Foucault
JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

okay, great, interesting question. I'm not sure i have 3, but i'll tell you what i can.

First, my favorite book of all time, and crucial to forming, or better yet, clarifying or explaining to me my existing worldview, is
Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey.

Also, The Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman.

ummmmmmm...

Really not sure otherwise. i hope this helps. the Kesey is very true.

the toughest part is getting this down to three. to do so, I will avoid the cliche of The Bible, because that book was indirectly crucial; i think judaism in general was more crucial than the bible itself.

so I will say:

Moby-Dick by Melville.
Sacred Fragments, a book about Judaism by Neil Gillman
Greatest American Leaguers, a YA book about baseball

1) To Kill a Mockingbird
2) Brothers Karamazov
3) Old Testament

Burnett, The Secret Garden
Roth, Portnoy's Complaint
Saramago, The Stone Raft

The Bible
Anna Karenina
Johnny Learns to Type

The User Illusion -- Tor Norretranders (about consciousness)
The Path of Blessing -- Marcia Prager
Moby Dick -- Melville

"Hiroshima" by John Hersey
"Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn

And third place is a dead heat between:
"An Actor Prepares" - Stanislavksi in combo with "Respect for Acting" - Uta Hagen; all of my high school text books in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, geography, environmental science and
calculus; and The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

If I have to pick, I'd say the textbooks more than anything else. If textbooks don't count, let's call it Stanislavski because he taught me how people work on the inside.

- The New Testament
- The collected writings of Bertolt Brecht
- Howards End by E. M. Forster

Howard Zinn: A Peoples History of the United States;

Where do I come from? (a sex-ed book for children, my mom gave it to me as a young kid, and I think it was fundamental in helping me have an educated and appropriate understanding of the process of reproduction from a young age);

English Grammar for students of Russian (without this book I wouldn't be where I am today)

SIX NONLECTURES BY ee cummings
NEW YORK TRILOGY by Paul Auster
DESERT SOLITAIRE by Edward Abbey

The Divine Comedy--Dante (does that count as 3 or 1?)
Various dialogues by Plato (apology, meno, republic) Machiavelli's 'The
Prince'
1984--George Orwell--my world view has been much more laden with
conspiracy theory after this
People's History of the US--Howard Zinn
If This is a Man--Primo Levi
Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences--Howard Gardner

Ficciones – Borges
Allegra Maude Goldman - Edith Konecky (precocious Jewish girl growing up in Brooklyn)
Little Women - Alcott

-Yeats complete poems because it's Yeats complete poems
-Frannie and Zooey because it's comforting
-Waiting for Godot because I didn't realize that people talk different than they think
-War and Peace because if it were the only book in the world that would be fine
-The ecclesiastes part of the bible and some of the psalms
-The Lives of the Great Composers because it shows that good artists can come out of any era of history
-Reflections in a Golden Eye because it is possible to explain a certain aspect of the human psyche so exactly that there is no other way to explain it
-Winnie the Pooh because of what it says about anxiety
-The Aenied because I had to read the fucking thing in latin and the words are out of order
-Rimbaud's complete poems because he STOPPED writing when he was 24
-Sickness unto death because of what it taught me about sex
-To Kill a Mockingbird because it actually isn't cheesy
-Bonjour Tristesse becuase it was written out of revenge
-A Moveable feast because it taught me how to travel and because it's so mean
-Dubliners because every playwright has to read that

1) Geanology of Morals (F. Nietszche)
2) Being in Time (Heidegger)
3) Wasteland (Eliot)
4) Crime and Punishment (Dosto)

The Origin of Species – Darwin
Dr. Dolittle – Hugh Lofting
A Book of Nonsense – Edward Lear

Your questions got me thinking about certain books over the years. I stand by my earlier claim that it was the totality of many many books that did the job on me. But, still, there were a few, especially some very early ones that got me thinking one way and not another.

For example, the first adult book I read all the way through -- maybe at age 4 -- was my father's copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I originally read it because I had gotten interested in the ancient Greeks (he was quite interested). But the last part of the book contained Norse myths and these were in some cases similar to the Greek ones. This got me to realize that these were just stories and needed more than claims to back them up. This helped tremendously in resisting the Bible during later attempts to force this on me.

Another early book was a long one, also my Dad's, Breasted's Ancient Times, maybe read at age 6 or 7. Again, I originally started reading it because I though ancient (and "lost") civilizations were cool (and loved the different architectures, etc.). But, I started to realize that human beings are driven to similar forms under similar conditions, etc. This led me to Anthropology later on.

A Life Magazine on the Holocaust (published in 1945, but I saw in in 1947 at age 7) completely horrified me, and made me afraid of adults to this day (and rightly so). This was likely one of the earliest insights and shocks that motivated my later long standing interests in helping children to think better than most adults do today.

Willi Ley's Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel around age 8 had a big effect. One memory from this book was the strange idea that you couldn't just aim a rocket at the planet you wanted to go to, but had to create an orbit for the rocket that would cause it and the planet to meet many months in the future. I can't quite explain why this had such a big effect on me.

Science fiction, especially of Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, etc., had a huge effect, and got me to read many deeper books, like Korzybski's Science and Sanity.

To have a conversation with a professor who didn't like grad students but did like McLuhan, I spent the better part of the summer of 67 really understanding Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. This was one of the biggest most useful shocks I got from a book.

Marvin Minsky's Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines had a great effect on getting me to think more mathematically about computing (maybe 1968), and this led to McCarthy's metadefinition of LISP in the LISP 1.5 Manual (a book of sorts), which was the key to really inventing objects "right".

### Parsing the Behemoth: Thought Experiments  12.06.2004, 10:33 AM

Bob talks about the book as metaphor. It is the thing that does the heavy lifting, a technology that allows us to convey our thoughts through a concrete vehicle. This site looks at how that vehicle is changing as a new electronic means of conveying written information begins to come of age.

When asked to imagine a metaphor for “the book,” we come up with something more organic, a lumbering behemoth with a hundred arms, waving anemone-like through the air to catch out particles of human discourse. The creature has some kind of hair or fur entangled with innumerable flotsam and jetsam. It is buzzing with attendant parasitical organisms, and encrusted with barnacles. To ask if the behemoth has a future is not the right question because the book, as we are picturing it in this analogy, is an immortal. The electronic incarnation of the book does not kill the old behemoth, but rather becomes part of it.

In his afterword to “the Future of the Book,” Umberto Eco noted that:
“In the history of culture it has never happened that something has killed something else, something has profoundly changed something else.” We are interested in the nature of this change as it relates to the book and its evolution.

To examine this heavy lifting device, to define and to understand this aggregate behemoth is the project of our “future of the book” blog. To begin, we have initiated a few thought experiments and put forth several questions that we hope will engender productive discourse. We welcome ideas and suggestions for future experiments.

Posted by Kim White at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)
tags: Blogosphere , General , Thought Experiments , blogs , book , books , ebook , ebooks , history_of_the_book , the_form_of_the_book , the_networked_book