SansBlogue  
Friday, March 20, 2009
  iPod for reading or reading for iPods
There's a fascinating, if slightly wandering post, both on the eponymous sebastianmary and on if::book about how an "iPod for reading" might impact our reading culture.

In it one of the great falacies of most discussion of e-books is exposed. The (probably unconscious, or maybe wishful) assumption is almost ubiquitous that when e-books finally arrive (or if they have with Kindle II, now that they have at last finally arrived ;) they will be just like traditional codex books.

But as the post points out, our idea of a "normal book" is a construct, not of literary decisions but economics:
Length is determined as well, by manufacturing constraints at the top end, and the fixed overheads of printing at the bottom. Bookshops are crammed with full-length books whose contents could just as well be communicated in a short essay, or even in the title alone: I’m thinking of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, but a glance at the self-help or business shelves of your local bookshop will show you plenty more. And yet to make economic sense they have to be padded out for publication  in ‘proper’ book size.
And since we are thinking iPod for reading, think also of what iPods have done to music. Almost no one buys "albums" for iPods, what people buy is tracks. E-books have no economic constraints on size - in either direction. Yet our electronic reading favours short focused writing.
So, extrapolating from this to an iPod for reading, what is the written equivalent of a single song? In a word (or 300), belles lettres.
Add to this renaissance of belles lettres and essays the electronic capacity for intereaction between writer and reader leads to the dream:
Armed with such a device, creating playlists, mashups, collages of our favourite short works, we might become a generation of digital Montaignes, annotating and expanding our collective discourse. Blogging is already, in effect, the re-emergence of belles lettres; and while blog posts are typically written for the moment, a device that could earn the blogger a small sum (and the cachet of being considered worthy of archiving) for every essay downloaded might well inspire a renaissance in short work written for a longer lifespan.
Sadly this is just the point at which I begin to doubt... I've heard before once or thrice that micro-payments are the salvation of serious culture on the web. See a couple of my old posts and the links there:
PS: do read sebastian mary's article, my summary and sour critique do not do it justice!

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