[Air-L] Kindle For iPhone App Released

Charles Ess charles.ess at gmail.com
Tue May 5 15:40:45 PDT 2009

> Kindle For iPhone App Released
> Colleagues/
> Is This The Future Of Reading?

thanks for the question, Gerry!

(At the risk of sounding like the monk in the terribly funny
"Medieval Help Desk" bit, who balks at learning how to use "the book,"
thereby having to give up his familiar codices ...)

my quick answer (having had the delightful chance to play with a Kindle 2
recently - but also having thought about these matters since the 1980s and
the introduction of hypertext programs ...)
yes - for some things
no - for others.

To get to this: allow me to go through the "what you can do" litany that
seems to be a common rhetorical trope for enthusiastic supporters of any new
technology, (and, to be sure, are important and interesting)
- but now for "old" technology.
CAVEAT: this is not an either/or, friends - in my ideal world, one I try to
construct on a daily basis in my classes, it's a both/and.  That is, the
technologies of literacy and print - as Naomi Baron very nicely documents in
her _Always On_ (2008) have specific strengths (and limits), just as
electronic texts do.  In my mind, the point is to make choices about
appropriate uses of each, informed by our best knowledge and evidence as to
what each is good for - and what each _can't_ do.

1) while you can do wonderfully useful text searches on various and
important databases (e.g., in Bibleworks or the multiple databases collected
under various "digital humanities" projects) - it remains easier to move
quickly to marked page in a printed text,
 and thereby to see that text in the larger argumentative/rhetorical context
of a section or a chapter (in contrast with attempting to scroll back and
forth with only one screen's worth of text available at any moment).
(And those wonderful searches - in my experience at least - tend to begin
with questions and queries based on an extensive familiarity with the text
that comes through reading carefully from the printed page(s) in the first
place.  But I'm an older fellow, and to be sure, this may not be true of
2) you can engage kinesthetic memory - one based within how your body moves
and organizes items in space - by writing out notes by hand (rather than
simply highlighting a text), and by arranging diverse books, articles, and
chapters, so to speak, geographically on a desk or shelf, perhaps in ways
that also map important conceptual relationships.
(Yes, I know something about hypertext and at one time was an enthusiastic
promoter thereof; yes, terribly exciting and interesting and valuable; but
not the same sort of cognitive / kinesthetic sets of activities.)
3) as Naomi Baron makes wonderfully clear in her book, you can use
handwriting as affiliated with books to slow down your simple "processing"
of information and thereby increase the amount of time and attention you can
devote to reflection and critical thought.
4) you can more easily trace out complex arguments that require many -
perhaps hundreds of - pages of print (Kant's Critique of Pure Reason,
anyone?) than having to do so on a one-screen-at-a-time approach allows one
to do.
5) you can personalize and appropriate the text and its embodiment in paper
and print - i.e., by marking, remarking, rereading, etc. - in ways that I
don't see happening on electronic texts for quite some time to come.
My example: I have philosophical texts (e.g., Plato, Nietzsche) that I have
read and re-read many, many times, and for many purposes - first for my own
study, exams, etc., and then during many years of teaching.  These texts
become very complex palimpsests, as each re-reading and re-thinking and
re-marking helps add additional layers of connections and understandings.
In addition to the way in which doing so helps me process and appropriate
the arguments and ideas kinesthetically, the markings help record not only
interesting and important connections, insights, etc., but thereby also
provide a record of how my understandings and interpretations of these texts
have changed over time.
Certainly useful for my own sense of self - cf. 7, below.
It may not be impossible to do something analogous to this with a future
Kindle - but after many years of owning a Palm, I'm hard-pressed to believe
that a future handwriting interface will be as quick and intuitive as my own
writing on paper.
6) you can train your mind to be more attentive and focused over a longer
period of time - rather than, as currently appears to be the case, given the
various affordances of current CMC instantiations, train for the quick and
(so recent discussion on the Humanist list, on the occasion of
Why can't we concentrate?)
7) you can use the technologies of literacy and print to construct a sense
of self - as Foucault documents it, going back to the Romans and the 1st
century, i.e., through the use of diaries and letters (thanks to Marika
Lüders for pointing this out in her thesis) - that is more reflective and
more stable in some ways.
Indeed, if the claims of Innis, Eistenstein, McLuhan, Ong, and others
reported by Baron are correct (as I believe they are), you can thereby
construct a sense of self as capable of critical rationality that is thereby
well suited both to modern natural science and modern democratic polities.
(Where the sense of self fostered by electronic communication technologies
and "the secondary orality of cyberspace" may lead is, so far as I can tell,
an urgent but still open question.)

I could extend this list (e.g., commonly deployed arguments about the
aesthetics of the fine edition, etc.), perhaps - but with this as an initial
sketch, then I think I would say
a) I would love to have a Kindle 2 and the capacity, say, to download a
scholarly book instantly, so that I could check references, etc.; read in
contexts and circumstances when a book is unavailable or inappropriate, etc.
b) I will hope to keep access to books for when electronic devices are not
available and/or inappropriate (if nothing else, that 20 minutes between the
closing of the aircraft door and when the announcement comes that it's o.k.
to use electronic devices) - and for the sake of the (continued) development
of the kinds of selves, knowledge and insights that seem to be correlated
with the technologies of literacy and print.

Sorry I couldn't put all of this in a tweet!

- c.

Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
Drury University, Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA

Professor MSO (med særlige opgaver),
Department of Information and Media Studies
Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

President, Association of Internet Researchers
Co-editor, International Journal of Internet Research Ethics
Co-chair, CATaC conferences <www.catacconference.org>

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

More information about the Air-L mailing list