Today I was at the INKE Birds Of a Feather conference here in Kyoto. I wrote a conference report at, INKE Research Foundations For Understanding Books And Reading In A Digital Age Text And Beyond. It was a great day with lots of discussion thanks to the BOF format where papers were distributed beforehand so we could only talk for 5 minutes.
Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category
From a story in the Guardian I discovered that online reading is taking off in China. According to China Daily story, Web literature turns a page with profitable storyline a large percentage of Chinese web users are reading long serialized novels for a 30-50 cents per 100,000 words (which is about a dollar for every 600-1000 pages!) The Guardian story Has China found the future of publishing? suggests that the convenience, the price, the type of serialized literature, the economic model (of independent authors and commercial sites), and the proliferation of e-readers has made it a viable business. I’m guessing that serialization is a way of discouraging pirates – people who want the next chapter will pay to get it as soon as possible.
I am at the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) launch. CWRC is building a collaborative editing environment that will allow editorial projects to manage the editing of electronic scholarly editions. Among other things CWRC is developing an online XML editor, a editorial workflow management tools, and integrated repository.
The keynote speakers for the event include Shawna Lemay and Aritha Van Herk.
Sean lent me LOGICOMIX (Doxiadis, Apostolos, et al. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and logic. The comic novel has a series of frames, the outer of which is a discussion between the real authors about logic and passion. They end up going to see Orestes and the novel ends with Athena’s judgement that brings the fates (passion and revenge) together with reason into wisdom in a city (Athens) through justice.
This frame echoes the main internal story which is Russell’s struggle to found math in logic. Much of the novel is a tour through the history of logic and important paradoxes. This tour runs in parallel with a biography of Russell. At all levels the novel seems to argue that you have to balance passion with reason. Russell tried to do it in his life, logicians discovered there was no logical foundation with paradoxes, and the graphic novel uses comic art to illustrate the story of logic (hence “logicomix”.) There is dog called “Manga” (which apparently in Greek means “cool dude”) who chases the owl (of reason.)
I’ve was slowly reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows when I came across this passage,
By combining many different kinds of information on a single screen, the multimedia Net further fragments content an disrupts our concentration. (p. 91)
As often happens when reading, questions disrupted my concentration. I couldn’t help thinking that Carr’s gaze was limited by the screen. How many distractions are there beyond the book and screen. I grabbed my iPhone and took a panoramic shot of the visual space from where I sat on the living room couch. Rooms are the problem – they are filled with multimedia and interactive distractions starting with the couch (which invites me to put down the book and snooze.) Here is my annotated “multimedia” space (click to enlarge):
So, ebooks are finally taking off! The Guardian reports that Amazon and Waterstones report downloads eclipsing printed book sales . This doesn’t mean that the value of print sales has been surpassed, but it is still indicative that ebooks are here to stay.
Now, can we redesign the book for the ereader? The current crop of ebook readers are page turners that don’t use the medium. Instead the medium has been made to work like the book and perhaps that is right, but I would still like to see something more interesting. Here are some ideas:
- e-audio-books – ebooks that come with either voice synthesis or synchronized audio so that you can listen or read them.
- An API for reading apps so that you could buy apps that work with all your ebooks. The apps might allow you to search across books or visualize books. There might be apps that quiz you with random quotes or help you pull linked data out of a book.
- A standardized way of citing passages in an ebook.
I’ve been meaning for years to blog about Ismail Kadare’s The File On H.. This short book is, I believe, Kadare’s response to the naive views about orality and primitive societies of people like Lord and Parry. Kadare apparently met them at a conference and there is no doubt that the book is some sort of literary response to their study of oral storytelling in the Balkans. The authors of the Wikipedia entry on the book seem to feel that Kadare was trying to alert us to the Albanian oral traditions that Lord and Parry ignored for the Serbo-Croatian ones. I think he was making fun of American academics trying to recover some noble and original orality and also trying to show that there is a continuity between oral storytelling and the constant spying on people of a police state.
<Spoiler Alert>Technology, this time magnetic tape recording, plays an important part in the plot. The two academics bring this new type of machine to Albania to record the local rhapsodes. A jealous Serbian monk stirs up trouble and the recordings get shredded. Ironically, while the two academics have nothing to left when they leave Albania, one of them has caught the bug and been infected with orality. They may not have recordings, but they have learned to do it. Which is the more useful?
Bookforum has a thoughtful review of Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality if Broken, titled What You Are Missing: The utopian visiion of one ardent proponent of gamification by Clay Risen (Feb/Mar 2011). Risen is critical of the view that we can transform learning by gamifying it.
Like a lot of hard-core gamers, McGonigal believes that game worlds offer something better than reality: “In today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy.” One could say the same about a drug high—indeed, McGonigal often mimics the chatter about marijuana’s world-altering potential common to freshman dorm rooms. Still, if she’s right, it’s only because, as real as some games look and as human as some of their characters appear, games are by design not real. Huge chunks of the human condition have been left out. Decisions have been simplified. Despair, anger, jealousy—emotions like these are engineered out of the gaming experience, not because game companies want to turn us into zombies, but because that’s what we demand: escape into a simplified existence from the messy disappointment of reality. Simply put, video games can’t help us change the world if they’re designed to divorce us from it.
I share the skepticism about the transformative power of gamifying things. Some of the issues we need think about are:
- Anyone who has taught K-12 has already tried gamifying with stickers, friendly competitons, using games and so on. It is already in the portfolio of a good teacher to try to make things playful.
- Games and simulations may work to teach some topics but it is likely that they won’t work for others. Flight simulators are examples of simulations that are clearly useful, but they work because we can actually model success on a computer. We cannot, however, model success in writing which means that games for writing are limited to gamifying things, not actually providing useful feedback.
- If we gamify things then we risk making gaming the least fun thing around. Gamification sounds like an Orwellian plot to dress up exploitation as play. Most people will see through it at the expense of serious attempts at serious games.
- Play is not work. Work dressed up as play is still work. At the end of the day it is a waste of money to dress things up instead of facing work as work.