Listing entries tagged with General
mass culture vs technoculture? 12.20.2005, 8:54 AM
It's the end of the year, and thus time for the jeremiads. In a December 18 Los Angeles Times article, Reed Johnson warns that 2005 was the year when "mass culture" -- by which Johnson seemed to mean mass media generally -- gave way to a consumer-driven techno-cultural revolution. According to Johnson:
This was the year in which Hollywood, despite surging DVD and overseas sales, spent the summer brooding over its blockbuster shortage, and panic swept the newspaper biz as circulation at some large dailies went into free fall. Consumers, on the other hand, couldn't have been more blissed out as they sampled an explosion of information outlets and entertainment options: cutting-edge music they could download off websites into their iPods and take with them to the beach or the mall; customized newcasts delivered straight to their Palm Pilots; TiVo-edited, commercial-free programs plucked from a zillion cable channels. The old mass culture suddenly looked pokey and quaint. By contrast, the emerging 21st century mass technoculture of podcasting, video blogging, the Google Zeitgeist list and "social networking software" that links people on the basis of shared interest in, say, Puerto Rican reggaeton bands seems democratic, consumer-driven, user-friendly, enlightened, opinionated, streamlined and sexy.
Or so it seems, Johnson continues: before we celebrate too much, we need to remember the difference between consumers and citizens. We are technoconsumers, not technocitizens, and as we celebrate our possibilites, we forget that "much of the supposedly independent and free-spirited techno-culture is being engineered (or rapidly acquired) by a handful of media and technology leviathans: News Corp., Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google, the budding General Motors of the Information Age."
I hadn't thought of Google as the GM of the Information Age. I'm not at all sure, actually, that the analogy works, given the different ways in which GM and Google leverage the US economy -- fifty years hence, Google plant closures won't be decimating middle America. But I'm very much behind Johnson's call for more attention to media consolidation in the age of convergence. Soon, it's going to be time for the Columbia Journalism Review to add the leviathans listed above to its Who Owns What page, which enables users to track the ownership of most old media products, but currently comes up short in tracking new media. Actually, they should consider updating it as of tomorrow, when the final details of Google's billion dollar deal for five percent of AOL are made public.
there goes the neighborhood 08.29.2005, 6:54 AM
Playboy Magazine is going digital. On September 13th, readers will be able to recieve the digital edition instantly, on their computers. According to the website, this new format will allow you to "zoom in to see every detail and archive your issues so you can access them anytime, anywhere." Ah, progress...
penguin classics, the complete collection...if only 08.26.2005, 3:06 PM
I was listening to a story on NPR called "Loading Up on Penguin Classics". My son was running around the living room screaming, so I didn't hear most of the broadcast. In my digital thoughtspace, I assumed "loading up" referred to software. Imagining an entire library, 1,082 classic titles, as electronic objects, stored neatly on my hard drive, is enormously appealing to my minimalist aesthetic and my nomadic digital worklife. However, as it turns out, the Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection is being offered as a 700 lb. load of paperback books (delivered free to anyone who can afford the shelf space and the $7,989.50 price tag). If only Penguin could catch a vision of THIS century and start making digital versions of the classics. I need screen-based books, audio books, lower pricetags, and I don't think I'm alone. Penguin, are you listening? I'm clearing out virtual shelf space now, make me some ebooks!
deadline for panliterary awards extended 08.03.2005, 9:16 AM
Drunken Boat, international online journal for the arts, has extended the deadline for its First Annual Panliterary Awards in Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Web-Art, Photo/Video, Sound. Submit up to three works. Winners in all categories will be featured in a subsequent issue of Drunken Boat, and will be invited to perform at future multimedia events and performances with all expenses paid. All other entries will be considered for publication.
Deadline Extended to: August 15th, 2005
Judges: Annie Finch, Sabina Murray, Alexandra Tolstoy, Talan Memmott, David Hall, and DJ Spooky
the paperless hospital 07.28.2005, 6:10 PM
For all the advances in medical science, it's incredible that the methods for organizing and distributing medical information have not kept up. A vast amount of medical error, both prescriptive and diagnostic, comes down to problems with the flow of information. All too often, the information doesn't flow fast enough, or different information flows to different people, or the information can only flow to one person at a time, slowing down treatment and opening the door to infection.
The Guardian has a fascinating profile (via Smart Mobs) of the Oklahoma Heart Hospital (known as OK Heart), which has the distinction of being one of the first hospitals in the world to go entirely digital. A central computer connects to bedside screens in each room where patient records can be instantly called up. Consequently, doctors, nurses and pharmacists are always on the same page - the same digital page - greatly reducing the length of patient stays, and minimizing error. Of course, technology alone will not transform medicine - it's the people that ultimately determine the quality of care - but the case of OK Heart is a compelling one.
There is a practical reason for using technology this aggressively: the longer you stay in hospital for the same treatment, the less chance you have of getting out of it alive. While the average stay for serious heart patients in the US is five days, the OK Heart average is 2.7 days, and falling. Doctors don't have to chase x-rays and MRI scans, which are in the patient's record before they get back to their room, and nurses don't chase the doctor's notes, which are transcribed remotely as soon as they are dictated.
It is a dramatic transformation in working practices: at the Indiana Heart Hospital, a digital hospital that runs along similar lines, internal research shows a reduction of 85% in medication errors, avoidable delays down by 65% and reductions in the cost of updating records by 45% compared with paper-based hospitals. Doctors also cut the time they spend updating records by a third.
It's also worth visiting OK Heart's website, where you can a watch a fascinating June webcast of surgeons at work on an Endovascular Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. The surgeons talk the viewer through the procedure, while diagrams appear to the right for clarification. It's a highly informative program and suggests how much the medical sciences will benefit when digital textbooks can bring the operating theater directly to the student.
korea's ubiquitous dream hall 07.25.2005, 1:58 PM
What if short-range time travel were possible, affording you a glimpse of the near future? What if it were as simple as buying a plane ticket? For anyone looking for tangible clues as to where today's info tech proliferation might be leading us, a Korean Air jet to Seoul might be the closest thing to a time machine currently available. Over the past decade, South Korea has emerged as the ultimate high-tech society, making our own gadget-crazed culture look provincial by comparison. A huge portion of the Korean economy (domestic and export) is devoted to information communications technology, Korean cities lead the world in broadband penetration, and nearly three quarters of South Koreans subscribe to cellular phone services.
And that is only the beginning. The government recently announced its vision for "u-Korea," a plan to achieve "ubiquitous communications" across the country through a blitz of products, services and infrastructure, as well as computer literacy programs targeting rural areas and the older generations that have been unable to keep up with Korea's evolution toward network totality. An article in the Bangkok Post describes the initiative (via Smart Mobs).
Among the planned "ubiquitous" services are internet telephony, digital multimedia broadcasting, and enhanced wireless broadband coverage that can be enjoyed at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour. National Computerisation Agency (NCA) president Dr Chang-Kon Kim says the goal is for total broadband coverage across the country by 2007. When all of this comes together, Koreans will find themselves living in a totally wired society where handheld devices (a cross between a powerful PC and a mobile phone) are the keys to the environment.
To offer its citizens a window into the future, the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication has set up the "Ubiquitous Dream Hall," an exposition space in downtown Seoul where visitors can explore the predicted technologies and begin to imagine new ways of life that might develop around them. There you can see a household where appliances, smoke alarm and stereo system are all wired into the same network, and family life centers around an interactive television; or a cafe where cappuccinos are ordered on wall-sized touch screens, then delivered by little service robots; or a car that instructs you where to drive; or a new form of interactive street advertising in which images on the floor change in response to pedestrians' footsteps. The Dream Hall also features an exhibit charting the development of household and communication technologies over the past 30 years, projecting u-Korea into a historical continuum. Whether ubiquitous communication will result in a better life for Koreans remains to be seen, but the government is betting it will be a surefire strategy to keep the economy booming. I'd be concerned for Korea's sanity.
See also in Ohmy News, Korea's citizen newspaper:
"International Citizen Reporters Get a Taste of IT Korea"
report to congress: johnny can't write 07.09.2005, 10:03 PM
The National Commission on Writing released its third report to Congress on Tuesday. It quantifies just how much poor writing skills are costing taxpayers. According to the report many state employees must undergo remedial training in order to bring their writing skills up to state expectations. This training costs taxpayers $250 million a year and that does not include the incalculable cost of lost productivity. This report was part of an ongoing evaluation of our nation's writing skills. The Commission's first report to Congress, The Neglected "R", called for improvements in writing education. Its second report, Writing: A Ticket to Work...Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders, examined the impact of poor writing skills on the private sector.
What does all this mean for the future of the book? Emerging technologies get a lot of air time on this blog, but very little has been said about writing itself. Clearly poor skills will have a negative impact on the future book, but what role, if any, are electronic technologies playing in the deterioration of writing? Certainly our reading behaviors are changing (see featured thread) but what of our writing?
the future of new york: can you stand the heat? 06.30.2005, 5:27 PM
Heat and the Heartbeat of the City, a site created by Andrea Polli and commissioned by New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. for its Turbulence web site. Has created a multimedia narrative that imagines the impact global warming will have on the city. The site presents sonifications (sound compositions created by the translation of data to sound) by Andrea Polli and a series of video interviews with Dr. Cynthia Rosenzwieg regarding the dramatic climate changes that will take place over the next 85 years. The project focuses on Central Park, "one of the country's first locations for climate monitoring. As you listen, you will travel forward in time at an accelerated pace and experience an intensification of heat in sound."
total recall: managing the memory machine 06.28.2005, 10:24 AM
Bodies in Motion: Memory, Personalization, Mobility and Design, A conference currently taking place at Banff explores the possibility of "total data memory." The conference gathers together nanotechnology researchers, medical researchers, and historians to examine the vast realm of memory materials gathered from increasingly ubiquitous devices such as: sensors, personal recording devices, and surveillance technologies. The conference imagines a world where information will be gathered by everything around us. Our clothes, the walls, we may even find sensors embedded in our bodies. This plethora of information could be used to construct an exhaustive virtual history. But is that something we want?
What drives the contemporary desire in the technology world for total data memory? How does data memory sit beside new kinds of memory capacities in other materials? Memory is closely linked to histories and the interpretations of history. Some of the best mobile experiences combine local memory, histories and place. What models of memory and mind are used in designing technologies that remember? What are the ethical implications of memory machines? What does this mean in time of war, increased security? How do we include the need, capacity, and desire to forget? How do we include trauma?
Marvelous summary of the questions facing us in the coming age of total recall.
GooglePorn.com? 06.24.2005, 11:07 AM
They say that porn drives technology, but could it possibly figure into Google's expansion into online payment systems? Would that be the end of the cute, cuddly Google we've all come to know and love - our most constant companion on the web? Sam Sugar, author of the adult industry-watching blog SugarBank, says Google would be foolish not to capitalize on this massive underground market, routinely shunned by "respectable" services like PayPal. In an open letter to Google's CEOs, Sugar lays out his arguments and explains how porn could catapult Google to the cutting edge of ecommerce, in much the same way that it helped VHS outmaneuver Betamax.
Banking is a perennial thorn in the side of even the largest and most successful adult websites. All adult companies are overcharged by merchant banks poorly equipped to deal with transactions they consider to be ‘high-risk’.
Before PayPal withdrew from offering billing services to adult companies (around the time they were acquired by eBay), they were the preferred customer choice for the websites that offered them as a payment option.
It’s hard to justify PayPal’s withdrawl on ‘moral’ grounds given the volume of pornography sold via eBay. The logical assumption is that PayPal’s decision to ban adult transactions is due to an inability to handle them well. What is beyond question is that their decision loses them billions a year.
Consumers don’t find adult websites easy to trust, and would welcome the ability to buy adult material without sharing their financial information with companies they’re unsure of. Google is universally trusted and so, when you launch the Google billing system, the adult industry will rush to use it.
(via Searchblog, who reports that Google already owns GooglePorn.com and similar domains.. intrigue!)
uncyclopedia: the inevitable wikipedia parody 06.09.2005, 5:02 PM
Bayesian news by email 06.06.2005, 10:42 AM
Another interesting prototype from BBC Backstage: news feeds delivered by email with Bayesian filtering. In other words, you can flag the kind of messages you want to receive more of, and the kind you want to receive less of, purifying the signal, as it were. This kind of filtering was first developed to deal with spam. Here's what it looks like in your mail viewer:
a literary map of manhattan 06.04.2005, 5:04 PM
Maps maps maps. Everyone's playing with maps as interface (see here and here). Check out this multimedia feature at the NY Times. Doesn't go very deep, but fun all the same. Each item was reader-submitted over the past month - a collective effort to map the rich fictional life of Manhattan. They should do one of these for Brooklyn.
Reminds me of Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. Each of the red dots below links to a story or article set in that location.
80 years of the New Yorker on disc 06.02.2005, 5:19 PM
The New Yorker has never seemed terribly interested in going digital. Despite maintaining the obligatory website, with a smattering of free content and online features, the magazine exists somewhat apart from the daily swarm of the web. The print format still works quite well for them, and they have the legions of loyal subscribers to prove it.
But their latest publishing project does take them into digital territory. This October, in a big legacy move, the venerable weekly will release 4,109 issues - every single page since the February 1925 founding and the 80th anniversary issue this year - on an eight-DVD set. "The Complete New Yorker" (see NY Times story) will go for about $100 (though Walmart is already listing it for $59.22), and will also contain a 123-page book with an introduction by editor David Remnick. A big improvement on microfilm, the discs will allegedly be searchable by computer, though how granular the search is remains to be seen. For it to be more than just a collector's item, it should be fully structured and offer fine-toothed find functionality. Remnick confirms, however, that readers will have the option of browsing just the cartoons (as many of us do).
ELO site gets makeover 05.24.2005, 1:38 PM
The Electronic Literature Organization, whose mission is to "facilitate and promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media," has a new site designed by Nick Montfort of Grand Text Auto.
a big bang theory for media 05.23.2005, 5:35 PM
Future generations, living comfortably as digital natives, may look back on the twentieth century as the big bang moment in the history of media. The big bang theory, by now a household concept in the annals of cosmology, speculates that the universe began some 13 or 14 billion years ago in a massive explosion of matter from an original, super-dense, super-heated singularity. What does this have to do with twentieth century media? More than you might think. Industrialization and the development of telecommunications resulted in the centralization of communication forms into a kind of super-dense, super-heated singularity of their own: the mass media. Its power to drive a consumer economy through advertising, and blanket entire populations with messages and imagery has been so impressive, so all-consuming, that in a very short time it has come to seem all but inevitable.
But much to mass media's surprise (and horror), the singularity has exploded. With the web barely a decade old, it looks like the reign of mass media is turning out to have been only a brief interlude between a pre-electrified world, and a vastly uncertain digital horizon. Generations for whom radio and television were wondrous novelties assumed a passive posture, letting the transmission waves wash over them. But subsequent ages, reared in the super-heated forge of the mass media, have grown increasingly impatient with the paleolithic norms of the TV network, the daily newspaper, the cineplex, and the publishing conglomerate. They want more diversity, more choice, more mobility, and more opportunity to contribute in the very forms the media taught them. Totally decentralized, the internet is a different kind of animal, and since it can absorb and copy basically any kind of media, it is perceived by Big Media as fundamentally hostile to its interests. Consequently, they are doing everything in their power to preserve the models that worked so well for them when the universe was still young and galaxies (chains, affiliates, imprints) were still within their grasp: suing file-sharing services, going after DVD pirates, and slapping all sorts of nasty DRM (digital rights management) on the little downloadable content they are tentatively trying to sell. But in the end, it's a losing battle. Trying to hold still in a swiftly expanding cosmos will prove at first uncomfortable (as it is now) and eventually impossible. The universe is moving outward. Later, we'll tell our grandchildren what it was like to watch the big bang and the brief, brilliant age of the mass media.
The Wall Street Journal ran a free web feature today - "How Old Media Can Survive In a New World" - examining the crisis facing mass media, asking influential observers in each industry what might be done to adapt to the decentralized laws of the web and how to profit from media that has no physical dimension. It serves as a nice snapshot of the explosion in its current phase.
valuing nonmarket production 05.10.2005, 3:12 PM
As the mother of a toddler, I'm keenly aware of how grueling the 24/7 unpaid work of parenthood really is. A friend of mine sent around a mother's day email that added up all the little things we do and arrived at a salary of about $131,000. Slave wages compared to the figure in Jennifer Steinhauer's Times article, The Economic Unit Called Supermom which came up with "an estimated $707,126 annual paycheck."
Problem is, no one will ever pay me $700K to do what I do for free. So is there any point in speculating about the market value of mothering? Perhaps there is. Steinhauer tells us that In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted its first-ever Time Use Survey, which examined the doings of 21,000 Americans over a 24-hour period. "There were a number of economists who were interested in valuing nonmarket production," said Diane Herz, the survey's project manager.
Many social scientists have explored the "social capital" gained by participating in these otherwise uncompensated activities. Social scientists argue, for example, that test scores go up in schools where parent volunteerism is highest, and that crime is reduced in communities with high civic participation. "Social capital is usually defined as the networks and relationships we have, as well as the trust and sense of mutuality that arise from them," said Amy Caiazza, a study director working with Ms. Hartmann.
So this got me thinking about digital networks and I started wondering how much web content is created, nurtured and maintained without compensation. And how apropos the term "nonmarket production" is for most web activity. The networked book, for example, relies on free contributions and other forms of non-commercial support. What does this mean for the future of books? Does the web have the potential to turn the book industry into an unpaid labor of love?
publishing bigwig fears change 05.10.2005, 7:02 AM
From Sunday's Observer: "Oh no, it's the death of the book ... again". Robert McCrum pokes fun at Nigel Newton, CEO and co-founder of Bloomsbury, British publisher of the Harry Potter books, for remarks on what he calls the "Napsterisation" of publishing - i.e. digitization - and the threat it poses to "the cultural and intellectual tradition of the past 600 years."
McCrum rejoins: "Before we allow Mr Newton and the merchants of doom to seize control of our cultural imaginations, it's worth recalling that Gutenberg was a vital part of the Renaissance. Gutenberg and our own Caxton were eventually followed by Shakespeare, Marlowe and Milton.
"Delivery systems evolve. Instead of whingeing about Google, we could celebrate the extraordinary technology that will bring a cornucopia of hitherto inaccessible material before a bigger international audience than ever before."
island hopping - a new paradigm for web search 05.09.2005, 8:10 PM
When you search the web on Google or Yahoo, your results come up in a stack - a long scroll unfurling at your feet. Ranking is what makes the whole thing work - the most relevant, or most linked-to, items are placed near the top, and more often than not, you get what you're looking for. Few really bother to sort through the rest of the pile, even though valuable stuff could be buried there (and what if you don't know exactly what you're looking for?). Clustered search takes a different appproach, breaking up results into useful categories and themes, enabling users to penetrate the stack more quickly (see Clusty, or its parent Vivisimo). It's an interesting compromise with top-down shelf-based hierarchies. Clustered search doesn't impose categories on you from the get-go, rather, it applies them as needed - building shelves on the fly. Grokker, a Yahoo-powered "visual" search engine, takes it a step further, arranging clusters into archipelagos of information, "giving you the ability to explore any subject far beyond the obvious." Each category is represented by a circle, containing site links (appearing as squares) or smaller circles (subcategories). Above is my archipelago for... "archipelago." It brings up top level clusters for "botanicals" (Archipelago Botanicals produces a popular line of soaps, lotions and scented candles), "Hawaiian," "Sea," "Gulag," and others. Drag over a site and a nice summary pops up (see righthand image above) - much more readable than the hodge podge you get in Google.
Link to NY Times article on Grokker.
judging a book by its contents 05.05.2005, 10:22 AMCheck out this article in today's Wired News discussing what Amazon might be up to with features like Search Inside the Book, automated recommendations, and user-augmented content such as reader reviews, customer images, Listmania etc. Are these just a bunch of fun toys, or is it all beginning to add up into something big? The article focuses primarily on fancy new search functions - Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs), text stats, and concordance (see "amazon: inching toward semantic") - and includes a few remarks on the subject from if:book..
visual politics 04.29.2005, 4:05 PM
Do your political affiliations affect that way you "read" images? A group of graphic designers created Visual Ideology; representing political ideas with images to explore this notion. They pose the question this way: "Given the choice, what images would the general public associate with specific ideas or words? How can one image be more meaningful than another similar image? This project asks viewers to make decisions as to images that best represent their visual definition of political terms or ideas." I encourage you to try this yourself. After you complete the (often hilarious) visual survey, an interface will tell you exactly who shares your visual politics.
five million words of public domain restored! 04.18.2005, 2:58 PM
"Once it had walls three miles round, with five or more gates; colonnaded streets, each a mile long, crossing in a central square; a theatre with seating for eleven thousand people; a grand temple of Serapis. On the east were quays; on the west, the road led up to the desert and the camel-routes to the Oases and to Libya. All around lay small farms and orchards, irrigated by the annual flood — and between country and town, a circle of dumps where the rubbish piled up." (from Waste Paper City by P.J. Parsons)
It was in this garbage dump, outside the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in modern-day Egypt, vanished except for a single column, that 400,000 classical manuscript fragments were unearthed by British archaeologists in the late 19th century. It has long been thought that the texts, which reside at Oxford's Sackler Library, represent a vast number of missing pieces from the known classical canon, in addition to thousands of humdrum documents - petitions, land deeds, wage receipts, orders for arrest, registration of slaves and goats etc. - shedding light on daily life in the Greco-Roman world. The problem is that they are largely unreadable, crushed and mashed together, blackened by years of decay, nibbled by worms. Here and there over the years, individual texts have been deciphered, making waves through the academic world. But now, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri can at last be decoded en masse through the use of multi-spectral imaging, a technique developed in satellite photography, which teases texts to the surface with infra-red light. Hailing it as the "holy grail" of antiquarian discoveries, classicists are predicting a major wave of restoration to the received literary canon, including lost plays of Sophocles and Euripides, a post-Homeric epic by Archilochos, and even missing gospels of the New Testament.
boekplaats 04.12.2005, 6:14 PM
out of print is out of date 04.11.2005, 1:15 PM
Amazon.com has recently acquired BookSurge, the self-described "global leader in inventory-free book publishing, printing, fulfillment and distribution." This adds cutting edge print-on-demand technology to Amazon's online retailing recipe - big news for self-published authors, but even bigger news for readers. Amazon's move suggests that print-on-demand might finally be maturing out of the terrible twos of the vanity press into a technology that redefines publishing in space and time. Imagine rare books suddenly coming back into print, and newer books staying in print longer, or indefinitely. Every book, no matter how old or obscure, could theoretically be in print, in perpetuity. Amazon already sells out-of-print or hard-to-obtain titles produced on demand by BookSurge, but their absorbing the company signals a definitive step futher into long tail bookselling. (article)
The backbone of any serious publishing house used to be its backlist - the large catalogue of older titles that sell reliably over time and are therefore kept in print. A backlist might include classics by the country's most important authors, or books with more modest readership that still sell consistently over the years. It's like the publisher's DNA - a map of who they really are. On occasion, you have a runaway bestseller, and you rejoice, but it's not something you count on. It's the sturdy, distinguished backlist that keeps a publisher grounded. Today we have the opposite. Most publishing houses have merged under large media conglomerates, backlists have dwindled, and publishers are ever more obsessed with finding their next blockbuster hit - a Dan Brown or Sue Grafton. Books quickly go out of print, and many more - books that might have found a smaller, more select readership - probably never see the light of day since publishers aren't willing to take on the cost and risk of a smaller print run.
But as Greg Geeley, Amazon.com media products vice president, puts it:
"Print-on-demand has changed the economics of small-quantity printing, making it possible for books with low and uncertain demand to be profitably produced... Thanks to print-on-demand, 'out of print' is out of date."
People have been talking for some time about the internet's potential to sweep away the stagnation of mainstream publishing. Amazon has already changed the way we browse, buy and discuss books. Now, with machines that can turn out a single book at a time, indistinguishable in appearance and quality from a regular trade paperback or even hardcover, no title need ever go out of print, and publishers might finally be able to direct their attention away from quantity and back to quality.
For further reading...
food for thought 04.07.2005, 5:47 PM
(photograph by Gregory Vershbow)
generation M and the mediated mind 03.10.2005, 8:52 PM
A major study of media consumption habits among American youth (ages 8-18) was released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A "representative sample" of over 2,000 3rd through 12th graders were surveyed, including 700 who volunteered to maintain seven-day "media diaries," charting media consumption in half hour chunks, noting location, company they had, and any simultaneous activities. Findings were announced at a high-profile release in Washington attended by Hillary Clinton and other luminaries.
The study finds that kids are often multitasking - absorbing several media simultaneously, often at consoles set up in their bedrooms. Average daily exposure is a full third of the day (8.33 hours), which, when combined with approximately a third of the day at school and a third of the day asleep (although most kids are probably not sleeping that much), amounts to nearly every waking, extra-curricular hour spent tuned in, logged on, glued to, etc...
The evidence of multitasking paints a picture of a generation skilled at combining passive and interactive media - the TV is on, but you're also instant messaging with friends, and doing a bit of quick research on Google for that homework assignment. Constant skimming and constant scattering. Are these fractured minds in the making?
How Do Books Work? A Conversation with Mom 02.28.2005, 10:15 PM
My mother, a veteran kindergarten teacher, who, over the last 30 years, has taught scores of children to read, recently engaged me in an interesting conversation regarding the ebook vs. the paper book. She was responding to something I posted a few months ago called: Children and Books: Forming a World-view. She was particularly interested in this passage:
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 was really touched by the comments about Aidan and me. I truly believe that a child’s first experiences with books (even before he/she can read) are vital to his/her enjoyment of them in later life. I would like to add to your observations about books being intertwined with experiences and how I see very young children learning to love literature.
Much research has been done on how and why children want to learn to read. We know that the single most important thing that parents can do to make an avid reader of their child, is to read to them. We also know that, for most children, it takes approximately 700 to 1000 hours of lap/read time to have them ready to read. That sounds like a great deal of time, but if you put your child in your lap from the time they are 6 months old until they are 5, that is about 3 minutes a day. If you are holding your child close to you and together you read a colorful, well-written and illustrated children's book, 3 minutes will disappear very quickly. I cannot imagine any 6 month old interested in a book written in a machine. YES, they would be interested in the machine, but the book (the story and the beautiful illustrations) would be lost to the small child. Because--the biggest part of the reading experience for a small child is being able to participate by holding the book themselves, turning the pages, pointing at the pictures, going back to the pages that they most enjoyed, in other words interacting with a handheld book. A machine will not offer this opportunity.
When children come to my preschool/kindergarten classroom the ones who have had many experiences with books have a wealth of background and knowledge that others do not have. Even if they do not read, when they are given the initial literacy exam they have learned by experience how to hold a book, which is the front versus the back, where do you start reading, what's wrong with this picture? Etc., etc., etc.
Perhaps, I am jumping too far ahead in assuming that all, even children's books will ultimately be on machines. If this is to be the case, it will DRASTICALLY change the way children are taught to read and how early experiences prepare them for this task.
Thanks mom, this is great. It brought up a few questions, I wonder if you can address them. I agree that the nurturing aspect of reading to a child is most important, but if the child is sitting in my lap while we look at a book on the computer screen, how will the experience be different? Also, I'm trying to understand why paper books are better than screen-based books, if the book progresses by clicking a mouse or touching the screen, why would those actions be less developmentally useful than page turning? Also, why wouldn't a 6 month old be interested in a screen-based book? Aidan was mesmerized by the baby einstein videos, those are screen-based. When I play dvds on my laptop machine he screams because he wants to touch the keys and I have to restrain him. He loves pushing buttons, clicking my mouse and touching the screen. It seems like these are skills that he will have to learn in this computer-driven world, why not link computers with reading/nurturing/sitting in mom's lap, etc., from an early age?
These are excellent questions and I do not know how to answer them, as no research has been done in that area. (Great place for Ph.D. research, or for another year of grant money.) You are right, a small child is mesmerized by things they see on the TV and on the computer screen. If you, the parent, is holding the child, perhaps the child would get the same nurturing experiences with the book machine as with a hand held book. I have only had experiences and read research about the hand held book, this is a whole new arena. I do agree that young children of this generation will have to have extensive technological knowledge and why not start it early. My kindergartners went to the computer lab once a week for 45 minutes and most of them were totally computer savvy and those that were not caught on quickly, as they are not afraid to experiment. As to the point that pushing a button is as developmentally appropriate as the skill of turning a page, they are very different skills, but if books are to be in ibooks, turning a page will not be a skill that young children need. Basically this is all uncharted territory and these questions are exactly what "the future of the book" should be asking. Bravo!
"finally, I have a Memex!" 02.01.2005, 3:40 PM
There's an essay worth reading in the ny times book review this past sunday by Steven Johnson about a powerful semantic desktop management and search tool recently released for Macs. The software (called DEVONthink) not only helps organize and briskly sift through readings, clippings, quotes, and one's own past writings, but assists in the mysterious mental processes that are at the heart of writing - associative trains, useful non sequiturs, serendipitous stumbles. In effect, we now have a tool resembling the Memex device described in the seminal 1945 essay, As We May Think by visionary engineer Vannevar Bush. Working with the cutting edge technologies of his day - microfilm, thermionic tubes, and punch, or "Hollerith," cards - Bush pondered how technology might help humanity to manage and make use of its vast systems of information. His recognition of the basic problem is no less relevant today: "Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing." Fast forward to 2005. Now, the holy grail of search is the Semantic Web - moving beyond the artificiality of crude content-based queries and bringing meaning, relevance, and associations into the mix.
"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ``memex'' will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory." - Vannevar Bush
It's quite suggestive that DEVONthink's semantic search function can to an extent be trained, taking the obnoxious little puppy on Windows search toward its full potential - a sleek, truffle-tuned hound. When Johnson loads his body of work onto the computer, the hound picks up the distinctive scent of his writing, which in turn suggests affinities, similarities, and connections to other materials - truffles - that will find their way into later works.
Says Johnson on his latest blog post, which goes into much greater detail than the Times piece:
"I have pre-filtered the results by selecting quotes that interest me, and by archiving my own prose. The signal-to-noise ratio is so high because I've eliminated 99% of the noise on my own."
But it is significant that DEVONthink is not useful for searching entire books (the author's own manuscripts notwithstanding). Currently, the tool is ideal for locating chunks of text that fall within the "sweet spot" of 50-500 words. If your archives include entire book-length texts, then the honing power is diminished. DEVONthink is optimal as a clip searcher. File searching remains a frustrating enterprise.
Johnson makes note of this:
"So the proper unit for this kind of exploratory, semantic search is not the file, but rather something else, something I don't quite have a word for: a chunk or cluster of text, something close to those little quotes that I've assembled in DevonThink. If I have an eBook of Manual DeLanda's on my hard drive, and I search for "urban ecosystem" I don't want the software to tell me that an entire book is related to my query. I want the software to tell me that these five separate paragraphs from this book are relevant. Until the tools can break out those smaller units on their own, I'll still be assembling my research library by hand in DevonThink."
Another point (from the Times piece) worth highlighting here, which relates to our discussion of the networked book:
"If these tools do get adopted, will they affect the kinds of books and essays people write? I suspect they might, because they are not as helpful to narratives or linear arguments; they're associative tools ultimately. They don't do cause-and-effect as well as they do 'x reminds me of y.' So they're ideally suited for books organized around ideas rather than single narrative threads: more 'Lives of a Cell' and 'The Tipping Point' than 'Seabiscuit.'"
And what about other forms of information - images, video, sound etc.? These media will come to play a larger role in the writing process, given the ease of processing them in a PC/web context. Images and music trump language in their associative power (a controversial assertion, please debate it!), and present us with layers of meaning that are harder to dissect, certainly by machine. It is an inchoate hound to be sure.
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
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tags: Blogosphere , General , Thought Experiments , blogs , book , books , ebook , ebooks , history_of_the_book , the_form_of_the_book , the_networked_book