Online Offline Reading

October 27th, 2006 by Hugh

Exbiblio aims to add a digital dimension to print. As you read a book with your oPen scanner in your hand, you will be able to capture lines of text that you want to remember. Later on, these will be loaded onto your computer where you can do digital things with them – like emailing or blogging them. Perhaps one day people will embed links into books so that you can go to an audio-video experience on the net.

But does this take some of the pleasure out of reading? A much discussed blog post by Nostrich describes the difference between the experience of reading a book and reading something online:

Traditionally, reading a book – or any printed word, for that matter – is a rather involved process. As you read, you are listening to the words in your mind. The book remains static in your hands; on your lap; on the desk; forcing you to move your eyes to each consecutive word. Knowing the arduous process the book has been through – editing, proof-reading, typesetting, etc. – instills a sense of trust in the words before you; someone put a hell of a lot of work into making this book, just for you. The cost of books also instills pride of ownership.

But now, with the popularity increase of digital media, all this goes out the window. I don’t own the words I read online, I’m merely a guest; it’s impersonal. When reading words published online, my eyes remain static as each line scrolls past my eyes. Online publications are ephemeral.

It would be a shame if the experience of reading a book became filled up with digital clutter of the ephemeral kind. In many ways reading a book in an antidote to our addiction to the always-on Internet. It’s a much calmer mental experience.

Exbiblio would argue that the oPen is mainly an off-line tool that only connects later on to the digital world. But future generations of portable scanners might well be integrated into mobile phones. There’s already a mouse that will read colored bar codes.

It’s pretty much inevitable that the habits we pick up while reading online will start to invade traditional literature. It’s happening already and language is constantly evolving. Over here in Europe we are ahead of America as we send SMS text messages back and forth many times a day with phrases like “C U 2morrow”, a trend which hasn’t caught on quite so much in the States. Many Britains under 30 do not use capital letters in emails. It will be very hard for even the most traditional authors to ignore the digital dynamics of language.

Comments are closed.