Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Out of The Shallows…

Nick Carr’s new book (The Shallows) which I have, but haven’t yet read has kicked up a bit of a stir. I’m always skeptical of determinist arguments – the internet makes us stupid is not what he’s saying, but it’s the meme that will be repeated. But there’s been some good reaction from Stephen Pinker in The NY Times and Clay Shirky elsewhere. Here’s Steven Johnson’s take:

But Mr. Carr’s argument is more ambitious…: the “linear, literary mind” that has been at “the center of art, science and society” threatens to become “yesterday’s mind,” with dire consequences for our culture. Here, too, I think the concerns are overstated, though for slightly different reasons.

Presumably, the first casualties of “shallow” thinking should have appeared on the front lines of the technology world, where the participants have spent the most time in the hyperconnected space of the screen. And yet the sophistication and nuance of media commentary has grown dramatically over the last 15 years.

What gets me is the technological confusion that others will extrapolate from an interesting discussion about the complex beast that is the internet. What will happen is a reduction of the argument down to print (book) vs screen (internet). I maintain that the medium is not the message; that it’s entirely possible to do on a screen what you do on ink and paper. Just look at what Joe Wilcox (who’s normally wrong about things!!) has to say:

I realized that iPad offers fresh functionality: Immersion. I find there are fewer reading distractions, and content is better presented than on a laptop and browser. I’m more focused and retain more of what I read. For reasons not easily explained, I find myself more thoroughly reading iBooks than defaulting to the skimming I sometimes do with physical books. Part of this immersive experience is the technology, but also how iPad is used. Apple’s tablet is a sit down and focus device, as much because of size and shape as screen and user interface. The totality — physical design and software benefits — is immersion.

To suggest that the internet is distracting goes without saying; to say that therefore all screens are distracting is something else again. Just as War & Peace and The National Enquirer are products of similar print production and distribution mechanisms, so it can be with screens…

Digitising the past…

Terrific post on Boing Boing looking at how The Library of Congress is digitising historic documents:

Among the finds: tracings of an earlier document on a Marco Polo map that dates to 1480. Lost text, revealing the cartographer, on 1516’s Carta Marina. James Madison’s debate papers, it turns out, contain hidden revisions.

“If it’s fragile, even researchers have trouble with it,” France said.”I want to make it acessible.”

Screens as paper

Way back when, the very first laser printer I used had a resolution of 300 dots per inch (or dpi). And way back then, I thought it was pretty damn good. Certainly good enough to get away with pseudo-typesetting (or desktop publishing as they used to call it) a range of books and annual reports and the like. In fact, the real problem with those laser writers was that getting really black blacks was tricky – any solid areas always looked patchy and streaky. Anyhow, I’ve always had in mind the idea that when electronic screens matched that 300 dpi resolution, then the screen as paper and all that entailed (such as the ebook as book) had arrived.

Remember, back in the day (of desktop publishing) that 72 dpi was de rigeur for computer screens. This has improved dramatically and laptops and these days, good LCD screens are well over the 100 dpi mark. Smartphones have always done better in terms of so-called pixel density, with most sitting between 150-250 dpi. But recently, there’s been a bit of a battle for bragging rights, and today’s iphone 4 announcement has just upped the stakes – with a 960 x 640, 3.5 inch display, it’s the new king of the hill at 326 dpi. Comfortably clear of my mark. Is it any good though? Here’s Gruber:

Apple had a demo area for the media after the keynote, so I got to spend some time hands-on with the iPhone 4. The resolution of the “retina display” is as impressive as Apple boasts. Text renders like high quality print.

Now I just want that screen resolution on an ipad 🙂

Textbooks and all that

The ipad has kickstarted conversations about electronic books in Universities – and for pretty good reason. Whilst early Sony and Kindle trials made clear the limitations of black and white e-ink, there’s definitely potential in those ipad screens. A piece in Inside Higher Ed today looks at some US examples:

In for-profit higher education, more than any other sector, the traditional book is becoming obsolete. [The University of] Phoenix actually mandates that instructors assign digital materials “whenever feasible” — a strategic turn the company started to take back in 2003, but which has come to fruition more recently, with so many more materials now available in digital format. At this point, roughly 90 percent of Phoenix’s course content is delivered via e-books or other electronic means — the only exceptions coming in courses such as art history, where copyright issues surrounding digital renderings of images such as paintings remains a hurdle for e-book publishers, says David Bickford, the vice president of academic affairs at Phoenix.