Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Posts tagged ‘e-book’

Reading is a Technology that is still Changing

When Greeks began to write, Plato lamented this new technology, claiming it would ruin learning and memory. Instead of having to memorize everything, people could store knowledge externally in print and in text form. If you have some time to read more about how writing is a technology, check out this article (warning: it’s long and dense). In the long run, people still retained knowledge and added to our knowledge base over the millennia in art, science, math, literature, and so on. We live in an age where one newspaper may contain more information than the average citizen might come across in a lifetime just a few centuries ago. But how well are we remember these days in a new era? Nick Carr explores how we treat memory and attention span differently know that we are constantly on the Internet and can store vast amounts of information in cyberspace. Why remember when Marie Antoinette was beheaded when you can look it up in seconds on Wikipedia? Why memorize your friends’ phone numbers when they’re stored on a mobile device?

Out With the Old, In With the New 

I’m getting off topic, but what I mean is that whenever we develop a new way to store and disseminate information, we evaluate if this new technology will affect our way of thinking, analyzing, and remembering. And it usually does, although we cannot fully analyze the long term effects for decades. Along with multitasking and web surfing affecting our train of thought and ability to concentrate  we’re changing the way we read because of the e-book. I read an article that explores this topic. I’ve already talked about how e-books change reading comprehension for people who’ve grown up on print books (though not children). I’ve also talked a little bit about how some publishers and retailers like Amazon want to make reading social with shared underlinings and annotations (Amazon, stop sharing my notes! It’s creepy); some applications like Riffle try to make reading and recommendations a social media experience.

But apart from sharing our highlights and notes, e-readers gather information about our reading habits–how quickly we read, where we stop and start reading, how often we read, etc. What you read and how you read it is no longer your private information. This is obvious when we get book recommendations from retailers, but publishers might use this gathered information to encourage readers to edit. For example, if readers on average stop around page 50, the publisher might recommend that the writer shorten the exposition. What if a book you buy is automatically tailored to your tastes via algorithms that know your buying habits and your preferences? What if readers have the option to group edit a text? Of course, publishers have been coming out with new editions of books for years, but usually a new edition takes a while to write and is widely publicized.  What if the edition is specific to you, or you never know that what you’re reading isn’t what came out originally? What if the accessibility of a book is dependent on other readers? All of a sudden, that quiet, private afternoon curled up with a book seems way more disturbing and intrusive.

Is Sharing Caring? 

Mikhail Bakhtin theorized about the relationship between writer, audience, and genre. From what I can remember, a writer writes a book and publishes it, but its reception and genre is dependent on audience. For example, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was intended as an adult novel, but now it is widely considered YA fiction, though much of the content is memoir. Now, that relationship might books more malleable and changeable than ever before: writer publishes book, audience reads book on an e-reader, publisher gathers information and edits the book, and the book comes out again in a new, revised form based on the reader’s preferences and tastes.

I have no idea if this is a good or bad thing. If publishers really do start changing books to appeal to the audience preference’s, both the author’s autonomy and the reader’s choice will be limited. However, as long as the original print version is still available, I guess I’ll just switch back to print instead of risking reading a book that is not what the author intended. I would like to interpret and make reading decisions for myself, thanks very much.

A new meaning of “ownership”

I’m going to start off topic today and mention a post I made a few weeks back about the importance of public libraries, and I recently read a Publisher’s Weekly article that supports my claim with statistics: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/54474-majority-of-young-readers-still-use-libraries.html. I’m not posting this to say, “Hah! Look! I was right!” Really my intention is to show with numbers that libraries continue to be a valuable resource and an important asset to communities. There are several books I’d like to read soon, and I don’t have the funds to buy them, so I’m looking forward to checking them out from my local public library. Hooray for libraries!

Moving on to the main topic of this post, which will be short and sweet today while I chill during my lunch break before the rest of my afternoon (read: 1.5 hour long class and a goodness-knows-how-long group project meeting followed by going home and writing 6+ pages for my thesis and then eking out some French homework before working out). I know many of my posts are pretty long, so I’ll spare you the long-winded idea explications.

As someone who uses an e-reader and has purchased a fair amount of e-books for my Kindle, I became pretty concerned when I read this article: http://www.zdnet.com/why-amazon-is-within-its-rights-to-remove-access-to-your-kindle-books-7000006385/. Most stores that offer online content for your e-reader have clear rights of ownership; you’re basically a renter of what you buy online and is subsequently stored digitally on the seller’s server. This move is (pardon my inappropriate language for a minute) a cover-your-ass tactic on the company’s part to avoid a lawsuit should they have a systems failure/crash and your e-content disappears. Without their disclaimers in their terms of use, you could technically sue them for loss of property if your content is lost or unavailable from a systems failure/error.

The author, Eileen Brown, brings up an excellent point of the end of the article: with content becoming increasingly digital, we need to re-evaluate our notions of ownership. When we buy an e-book, we don’t own the book in the same sense that we own a print book–Amazon or B&N or Apple or whoever has the absolute right to revoke your access to that content. You’re pretty much paying a one-time fee to lease or borrow the content, but it’s not yours. Fortunately, none of the books I’ve bought are particularly sentimental or important to me–I make sure to have the books that matter most to me in print where they’re pretty much protected, except from theft or fire, though I have no idea who would want to steal my measly book collection or set fire to my apartment.

Anything we buy online and that exists online isn’t really “ours.” We’re renting it, and like something rented, the right to rent can be revoked at any time, often without any reason. I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to get comfortable with being at the whim of large companies with stuff that I think is “mine.” “Ownership” is undergoing a radical definition change. Maybe Merriam-Webster’s will have to catch up and add an entry for online ownership. Hopefully the law will catch up with these changes to protect consumers, though I doubt with the current political gridlock that that will happen anytime soon. For now, I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got and not worry about it; I already have a long list of things to worry about, some of which keep me up at night. There’s no room in my overcrowded head to heap this issue on the towering pile.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thought for the day: “Moderation in everything, in itself, is a kind of extreme.”

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