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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Monday, May 12, 2008

    Counterpoint: On reading and design

    In a 2006 keynote paper, Michael Jon Jenson, wrote that - having previously forecast the end of paper books, he had discovered that he was wrong:
    My fundamental error was in thinking that technology was the driver, rather than the human culture using the new technologies.
    So are we humans really incapable of learning new tricks, of moving on, of evolving? Is our social history just too much for us to break away from? William Powers (pdf. cf, yesterday) notes that
    in the literature of media studies, there is a determinist school which holds that technologies shape society
    but he also reminds us that even Nicholas Negroponte was forced to explain why his treatise on Being Digital was written on paper [not practical in terms of its reach to important people; repurposing of content; and "a more personal, slightly ascetic reason. Interactive multimedia leaves very little to the imagination."]

    So I am left with the question: which will evolve: us or the book?!

    Or perhaps I mean which will evolve first? Will we learn to cope with technology and e-book readers, or will e-book readers evolve to resemble books and thus become acceptable to us unregenerated humans? It would be nice to think that the media studies people are right - after all, television did not kill off the radio - we can learn to handle new inputs. Or is the point that we can learn to handle new inputs IF THEY ARE GOOD or TEMPTING ENOUGH?

    The current generation of e-book readers use e-ink and screen technologies which give a reading experience nearly equivalent to print on paper... but no user thinks of them as paper-based books. e-Ink comes from the same stable - MIT MediaLab - as Mr Negroponte, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that there is some urge to embrace the digital - with all its worldly pleasures; or perhaps the Negropontian ascetic urge will eventually lead to a happy medium (in both senses) that we can accept as a book despite its ability to change its content and define unrecognised words for us.

    Perhaps it is better to end, where I started. Jenson also wrote:
    Evolution is not survival of the strongest, or failure of the weakest. Evolution is not fair; it's not predictable; it's not kind. Nor is it cruel, or chaotic, or unfair, for that matter. It's what happens when environmental pressures change.

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