Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Death of The Book in the Digital Age

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Alan Liu, UCSB, is speaking on "This is not a book: Long forms of attention in the digital age". He commented that the lectern provided in the ANU seminar room was designed for paper, not for his laptop and mouse, which tend to slide off (perhaps he needs a tablet computer). Open Journal Systems was mentioned as one of the lively formats which while mimicking traditional book publishing are much more lively.

Professor Liu mentioned "Twitter fiction: 21 authors try their hand at 140-character novels" by the Guardian, which includes a "book" of 140 characters by Ian Rankin and smallplaces by Nick Belardes, with a book  as Tweets.

Professor Liu then discussed several projects to use a computer to analysis the documents which a group of people read. One example was "Making Visible the Invisible" (2005-2014) which displays on a screen at the Seattle Central Library what is borrowed from the collection. Professor Liu mentioned the Research-oriented Social Environment (RoSE) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This harvests books from online sources and creates Facebook-like pages for the authors (Facebook for the dead). Then the historical authors are linked to living authors. He in effect suggested that this collection of information is the book.
Professor Liu argued that the book is a long form of attention work, intended for permanent standard and authoritative use. But the historical "book" was not necessarily read in a linear fashion, nor fixed or authoritative. Presumably it was only with the invention of the printing press with mass production of identical copies bound together would make the book standardized. The Wikipedia suggests the word book is derived from "block of wood", which suggests permanence and authority (as you do not carve a block of wood without thinking about it carefully).

In my view Professor Liu missed the point that electronic documents, plus on-line forums are not emulating just books, but the process of scholarly dialogue. This then resembled a symposium, where scholars present their work and then discuss it. Books, e and paper, are just part of this.

Professor Liu is the author of  "The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information", which is a book. ;-)

1 comment:

  1. "book" as block of wood is not as permanent as you might think.
    it might refer to the notepad made of wax over a wooden base, written on with a pointed stylus - erased by flattening the wax -
    or the wooden cover boards which enclosed, protected and defined the pages of the codex book.
    And thirdly: book=>'birch' could refer to the use of birchbark - an admirable flat(tish) surface for writing - not to the white birch wood itself.
    Binders still refer to the gathered and sewn set of pages as a 'textblock' - so it might be 'block' means a chunk of anything, transferred from the wood block.