[pedagogy news]

Interesting pedagogical tidbits:

State law requires digital college textbooks by 2020
"Companies that sell textbooks to California universities must offer electronic versions by 2020, under a new state law.

Electronic books are generally less expensive, better for the environment and often more suited to the way today’s students study, proponents say. And a Kindle weighs a whole lot less than a backpack full of 500-page textbooks.

'Think about kids carrying around all these books — or just carrying a Kindle wherever you go,” said Joan Wines, an English professor at California Lutheran University who is doing research on digital textbooks.'"

Read the article here.

U.K. Universities are now (also) facing huge classes:

Cash-starved universities will have huge classes, says union

"Universities in the UK will be among the most overcrowded in the world within three years if savage government cuts to higher education go ahead, ­academics warned today.

The lecturers' union, UCU, said more than £900m of cuts announced last month would fill lecture halls with "some of the biggest class sizes in the world" by 2013.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published last year shows that while the average ratio of students to lecturers in UK universities is 17.6, in OECD countries the average is 15.3.

Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, said that "the dreams of many hardworking parents for their kids to go to university ... will be over". The cuts would send at least 14,000 academics to the dole queue.

The warning comes after top universities accused Gordon Brown of jeopardising 800 years of higher education, saying the cuts – which the Institute for Fiscal Studies says may reach £2.5bn – would 'bring them to their knees.'"

Read this entire article at the Guardian.

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[getting students to read]

Here is a great video I think I'll be showing all my first year undergrads. Author Jim Trelease (author of The Read-Aloud Handbook) compares reading to the process of cutting down a tree; both need to be done slowly and carefully.

Take a look:

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[handy resource list: new media, cultural studies, web 2.0]

Have a look at this wiki for a useful list of resources covering topics such as:

There are also links to papers, videos, interviews, researchers, conferences, syllabi and more!

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[storytelling 2.0]

It's children's stories which are pushing the boundaries of *traditional* publishing and going multimodal and mobile. Read the article on a few recent projects here (there's a snippet below) which are interesting but...I don't agree with gaming elements as synonymous with "boy friendly" (paragraph 6)! ARG! There are girl gamers out there and look at how Inanimate Alice weaves gaming alongside story development...and I know girls read that story too.

"In late January Lev Grossman, writing about the future of the book in Time, said the novel is on the verge of evolving “into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.” Although Grossman wasn't speaking to what is happening in children's publishing per se, there seems to be something in his description that taps into this brave new world.

It's clear that children's publishing is embracing the spirit of the book while finding more and more ways to tell a story outside the book. The challenge, as almost all who commented for this story said, will be figuring out how to create these non-book books cheaper, faster and better. As Katz put it,“This isn't landing in the new world, this is on the road to the new world.

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[literate cities]

Six key elements are analysed in this study to dechipher which city is the most literate (American cities only) in 2008. These include: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources and are then compared to the population rate (but only in cities greater than 250,000).

Somewhat oddly, the study does NOT include "
reading test scores or how often people read, but what kinds of literary resources are available and used."

Cities that ranked higher for having more bookstores also have a higher proportion of people buying books online, the analysis found, and cities with newspapers that have high per-capita circulation rates also have more people reading newspapers online. Likewise, cities that ranked higher for having well-used libraries also have more booksellers."

The author of the study, Dr. John Miller, makes a very interesting observation:

"While it is too early in this study to draw conclusions, it is nevertheless striking that newspaper readership rates in the US’s global economic competitors are significantly higher than in the US. Since literacy is generally regarded as a barometer of a nation’s social, cultural, and economic health, perhaps these findings are cause for national concern."

According to the USA Today report, "Preliminary results of a related study examining international literacy paint a less optimistic outlook for the USA. It notes that in per-capita paid newspaper circulation, the USA ranks only 31st in the world, far behind other countries, including Aruba, Liechtenstein and Japan."

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[reading flabuert's a simple heart]

A little while ago I mentioned that Andy had let me raid his office library (such fun!) and one of the many books that I nabbed was Flaubert's Three Tales.

"A Simple Heart" focuses on Félicité, a "maidservant" who "did all the cooking and the housework, the sewing, the washing, and the ironing. She could bridle a horse, fatten poultry, and churn butter, and she remained faithful toher mistress, who was by no means an easy person to get on with." I am immediately sad for
Félicité. On the third page we learn that her father dies when she was young and then her mother died leaving her sisters to look after her. When they followed their own paths (suggesting none of them were concerned or even really aware of Félicité), they left a farmer to take Félicité in. This new life meant perpetual cold - physical and emotional. After this awful experience, Félicité finds a job at a different farm where her new employers are kind to her even if the other help aren't. At this time she meets a man, falls in love, and then has her heart broken. Needing a change, Félicité finds a position with Madame Aubain where she gets "installed" like furniture in the house and also finds herself taking care of Paul and Virginie. When those around her leave or die, Félicité turns to religion (or rather, her interpretation of religion) as a panacea for her pain. The narrative begins by suggesting an unfolding future: "for half a century the women of Pont-l'Évêque envided Mme Aubain her maidservant Félicité." This is interesting because the way that Félicité is described, she is not "becoming," she is a woman already "installed" and "fixed." So dedicated and loyal, she seems complete in the same way that she ensures all her tasks are. Throughout the story there seem to be opportunities where we might begin to see a blossoming Félicité. She would "keep on kissing" the two children (present continuous) until Madame told her to stop. Emotion also seems to be a barrier to becoming, Félicité is "eaten up inside" and that prevents her from taking up hobbies or work that might otherwise involve her thoughts. Emotion is also detrimental to Virginie who originally becomes quite ill because of a fright. Later on she must refrain from playing the pain because "the slightest emotion upset her." At the end of the narrative, Félicité, who we have come to know as a loyal, selfless and hard working but "wooden" and who on her death bed remains finicky about tidiness, nonetheless experiences a deeply multimodal passing. Dying of pneumonia, Félicité smells the "mystical" scent of incense. We see her closer her eyes, we hear her slowing heart, we feel the fountain drying. Finally in death she can be loyal to herself and immerse herself in sensory perception.

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[creative writing and new media campus week]

This week, four weeks into the Online Masters in New Media and Creative Writing, is an opportunity for all the students to get together and meet each other in real life. Yesterday was their first day, a chance for all to catch an English breath and today they're all hard at work giving presentations. I've had the lucky chance to participate as a second marker on the presentations which have been incredible. As we break for lunch, I'm able to grab a moment of thought to ruminate on the presentations and then after lunch we'll finish with the final two presentations.

This morning I've learned about writers. Not writers in general, but writers, dreams and creators who are very specific entities. Thinking about the presentations is making me reconsider my previous thinking that I might be able to group "writers" and "readers" and individual groups (though of course some may blend between both groups). Based on the the writers/creators this morning, there is no such thing as "writers" but rather "a writer" in a singular and sense unique to each creator. Everyone today has been influenced by different people, occasions, thoughts and feelings. Poignant, for Barrington Salmon, is the role his mother (mother, worker, creator, chef, inspiration) in his poetry and stories. Leo, instead, finds creativity in the work of Rollo May, Daniel Pink, Banksy, Ken Robinson and more.

Melodie Daniels spoke about not liking The Old Man and the Sea, but interestingly she doesn't like it precisely because of Hemingway's gift with language. She, like me, doesn't want to be stuck out on the boat with the old man who was "thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck" (http://www.scribd.com/doc/21616/The-Old-Man-and-the-Sea). Even though Hemingway's language, at least in this story, is "spare and compact," everything is so vivid. Hemingway's language makes the reader feel there, in the boat with Santiago.

"The Old Man and the Sea could have been over a thousand pages long and had every character in the village in it and all the processes of the way they made their living, were born, educated, bore children etc. ...I have tried to do something else....I have tried to eliminate everything necessary to conveying the experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened."

nb. the image on the right of this post is a scanned in version of Melodie's first poem.

Sukai Bojang is also interested in language but she's focusing more on the oracular version. Recovering folk talks and translating them into English, Sukai is hoping to not only reach a different set of readers, but also to pass on cultural artifacts and help literacy rates in The Gambia. One of her inspirations is Chinua Achebe.

Still to present are Tia Azulay and Jaka Železnikar. I'm looking forward to hearing how and if South Africa has had an impact on Tia and her writing. I'm thinking of Andre Brink, J.M. Coetzee, Breyten Breytenbach, Nadine Gordimer, Mongane Wally Serote and and and...

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[ioct homework]

As Research Fellow at the IOCT not only do I get awesome office supplies to *borrow* (wii, eee pc, aibo), but Andrew Hugill let me pilfer his newly ordered library (alphabetic and by genre thank you very much) in search of some classic print books to read for homework. I'm especially loving the lined and well-read copy of Sentimental Education. I'm also secretly hoping to find some funny doodles...check out the one Whitney found in her professor's book.

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[harpercollins publishing online]

HarperCollins Publishers recently announced a variety of online promotions to allow consumers exclusive sampling of its books. The “Full Access” program will feature a select number of titles that can be seen in their entirety for a month: current freebies include Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello*, Mark Halperin’s The Undecided Voter's Guide to the Next President, and Erin Hunter's Warriors: Into the Wild.
The “Sneak Peek” Program will enable readers to view 20% of many new titles two weeks before they're on sale. The remaining titles in the digital warehouse are now available for 20% viewing after the release date in the “Browse Inside” program.

* Coelho has actually been encouraging his readers to download pirated versions of his books since 2005 ;-)

from trendwatching.

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[ha ha!]


Via Gawker.

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[collaborative writing]

Thanks to Gavin for updating me on his cool new project.

Last year
I blogged about Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan's "The Age of Conversation--a precedent-setting collaborative book by 103 authors hailing from every U.S. time zone, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, India and Oman."

This year Gavin and Drew are embarking on another collaborative (cooperative) writing project. The "kissing cousing" of last year's "book" has now title (yet) and not topic. We (as in readers of Drew and Gavin's blogs etc...) have been asked to vote on the topic via
surveymonkey. Choice are between three:

  • Marketing Manifesto

  • Why Don't People Get It?

  • My Marketing Tragedy (and what I learned)

If you would like to be involved you can begin by voting on the topic and then you can get your skates on and e-mail Drew about flexing your qwerty fingers.

Some basics for authoring hopefuls:

You will sign over all rights to your chapter

You understand that all proceeds of the book will be donated to Variety, the Children's Charity

You will promote the book, throughout the process, on your blog if you have one

You'll embrace the cooperative, collaborative spirit that defined Age of Conversation

You'll honor deadlines so Drew does not have to be a nag

You'll honor word counts so Gavin doesn't have to be a nag

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[new book: video: the reflexive medium]

NEW from The Leonardo Book Series and MIT Press


Video is an electronic medium, dependent on the transfer of electronic signals. Video signals are in constant movement, circulating between camera and monitor. This process of simultaneous production and reproduction makes video the most reflexive of media, distinct from both photography and film (in which the image or a sequence of images is central). Because it is processual and not bound to recording and the appearance of a "frame," video shares properties with the computer. In this book, Yvonne Spielmann argues that video is not merely an intermediate stage between analog and digital but a medium in its own right. Video has metamorphosed from technology to medium, with a set of aesthetic languages that are specific to it, and current critical debates on new media still need to recognize this.

Spielmann considers video as "transformation imagery," acknowledging the centrality in video of the transitions between images--and the fact that these transitions are explicitly reflected in new processes. After situating video in a genealogical model that demonstrates both its continuities and discontinuities with other media, Spielmann considers three strands of video praxis--documentary, experimental art, and experimental image-making (which is concerned primarily with signal processing). She then discusses selected works by such artists as Vito Acconci, Ulrike Rosenbach, Joan Jonas, Nam June Paik, Peter Campus, Dara Birnbaum, Nan Hoover, Lynn Hershman, Gary Hill, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Bill Seaman, and others. These works serve to demonstrate the spectrum of possibilities in video as medium and point to connections with other forms of media. Finally, Spielmann discusses the potential of interactivity, complexity, and hybridization in the future of video as a medium.

Professor Yvonne Spielmann is Chair of New Media in the School of Media, Languages and Music, University of Paisley, Glasgow. She lives in Glasgow and Berlin.

Video: The Reflexive Medium
MIT Press/Leonardo Book Series
452 pp., 136 illus.

To order this book and to learn more about other titles in the Leonardo Book Series visit the Leonardo Book Series website at: http://www.leonardo.info/isast/leobooks.html

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[Manolis Kelaidis at the ioct salon]

(nb live blogged so just snippets of notes)

Kelaidis, after doing years of engineering work decided he'd like to be more creative and so came to the Royal College of Art.

Says "he's not the biggest reader" but has fallen in love with the physciality of the book - the pages, the spine, it's a *functional* device.

Decided that books are nice but just not handy for linking information. So, his project would be a way to connect the analogue and the digital worlds.

Kelaidis has created an amazing book that can be connected to a computer. Then the reader's touch elicits information as the page reacts to a slight electrical current. Also, the idea is when someone is reading something, say about book binding, they can link, via the physical book, to a video on book binding.

Idea: to have books in the library light up with colours so that students know which books are relevant to their research.

"If people could use a book to control music on their computers, not only would it present an exciting marketing opportuinity but also a far more convenient way of accessing the story behind the music. Imagine a book where every song mentioned could be played by tougchig the title of the track."

- is working on a "volume bar" that the reader can adjust be sliding finger on the page.

How it works:
He prints his page with conductive ink (ink mixed with conductive particles, silver, copper etc...)
When we touch open circuit we close the cicruit and through the book spin (wireless) the book communicates to the internet.
All links are programmed but can be reprogrammed by individual readers.

Connectivity" book connected to computer which then opens MP3 or video etc. For today's presentation Kelaidis is using blue tooth.

Some images of the amazing book:

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I've just bought The Hidden Sense: Synthesia in Art and Science (Leonardo Book) by Cretien van Campen and can't wait to dig in. I've always wondered what it might be like to hear music but then see colours or hearing a word (hypertext for instance) and smelling something (peaches maybe).

Take a look at the image above. What do you see?


"Someone with number – colour synaesthesia will immediately see a triangle of 2’s – it would stand out because the 2 and the 5 are seen in two different colours."

If synethesia is a
"union of the senses"
does that imply a greater degree of transliteracy (if in fact transliteracy can be measured in degrees or otherwise). Would having synethesia mean readers can experience a variety of modes simultaneously? Images appearing as sounds or text as smells, rendering the whole experience sensory in both the online world and real world?

One of my students, Andy Warrington, on the Digital Cultures module for the IOCT Masters has drawn my attention to this interesting talk by neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran on brain fuctions including synethesia. Excellent:

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[man booker(s) digitised]

From The Times.
"The Man Booker Prize has been criticised over the years for selecting dark, unreadable and worthy tomes unlike the winners of other more populist literary prizes.

Now, in the week that Anne Enright became its 2007 winner, it is shaking off criticisms of being elitist and out of touch by taking the radical step of placing all its shortlisted novels online, available free to anyone worldwide.

Negotiations are under way with the British Council and publishers over digitising the novels and reaching parts - particularly in Africa and Asia - that the actual books would not otherwise reach.

Jonathan Taylor, chairman of The Booker Prize Foundation, said that the initiative was well advanced, although details were still being thrashed out.

The downloads will not impact on sales, it is thought. If readers like a novel tasted on the internet, they may just be inspired to buy the actual book.

Hearing about the initiative from The Times yesterday, Robin Robertson, deputy publishing director of Jonathan Cape – Enright’s publisher – likened it to Radiohead’s experiment this month in which the new album, Rainbows, became downloadable on an “honesty box” basis. An internet survey of 3,000 people who downloaded the album found that most paid an average of £4, although others claiming to have paid more than £40.

Mr Robertson thought that a partial reproduction rather than an entire book was preferable. The news emerged as Enright, a 45-year-old Dubliner, became the 2007 winner of one of literature’s most prestigious awards for her bleak Irish family saga, The Gathering.

The latest British figures from Nielsen BookScan show that, since it was published in May, only 3,306 copies have been sold in hardback, with a further 381 in paperback. Enright’s publisher said that the actual figure was 35,000, including sales in Europe. Winning the Booker will also do wonders for sales. Enright’s sales may now quadruple, at least.

“We found it a very powerful, uncomfortable and even, at times, angry book,” Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the judges, said after picking the book on Tuesday night. “It is an unflinching look at a grieving family in tough and striking language.”

He added: “I think you people will find this a very readable and satisfying novel.”

That was not quite what a lollipop lady, a builder’s yard worker and other locals from the Scottish village of Comrie thought of the novel when presented with the shortlisted books by the BBC, for a Culture Show documentary screened last weekend.

Sara Tiefenbrun, its director, said that they asked regular readers and those who had not touched a book for years to comment on them.

If Conway’s inhabitants had been judging the prize, they would have chosen The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a story about a Westernised middle-class Pakistani man whose life is changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Tiefenbrun said: “It came out on top because they found it had a gripping narrative and unusual story . . . very much a story of our times. The Gathering didn’t go down well. The Booker judges decided it was ‘accessible’. That’s not what our people found. They found it jumped about, the narrative wasn’t linear and it was quite confusing and gloomy.”

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[putting the "I" in business models]

AmieStreet.com Announces Series A Financing Led By Amazon.com

NEW YORK, Aug. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- AmieStreet.com, a fast-growing digital music store with a unique demand-based pricing system, announced today the completion of its Series A financing led by Amazon.com, Inc. . The amount of Amazon's investment and the terms are not disclosed.

"Amie Street has a very smart and innovative team," said Jeff Blackburn, Senior Vice President for Business Development, Amazon.com. "The idea of having customers directly influence the price of songs is an interesting and novel approach to selling digital music."

AmieStreet.com is the first digital music store propelled by social networking, where members of the community drive the discovery, promotion and pricing of music. All songs on AmieStreet.com start at a price of zero cents. As more people download a song the price rises, capping at $0.98.

For recommending their favorite songs to their friends, members are rewarded by receiving credit for the purchase of additional music on AmieStreet.com. The more popular a song becomes after a member has recommended it, the more credit he or she receives to spend on music.

The recommendation system brings the music discovery process and the dynamic of social networking full circle, giving members the incentive and the means to continually discover and share new music. AmieStreet.com is a music network where people's passion for music, and their desire to share it with one another, generates commerce that benefits the entire community.

"AmieStreet.com grew from the idea that we needed to make buying music social and fun," said AmieStreet.com's co-founder and CEO Elliott Breece. "The Amie Street community took over from there, driving a shift toward a music marketplace where consumers decide what is popular and what music is worth. We're thrilled to have Amazon.com's support in empowering music consumers."

Anyone can upload their music to AmieStreet.com, and all songs are downloadable in DRM-free mp3 format.

In conjunction with the announcement of its Series A, AmieStreet.com is debuting releases from Audio Bee, Daptone Records, Nettwerk Music Group, United For Opportunity (UFO), Dualtone Music Group, RoyaltyShare and INgrooves. As always, all songs start free!

About AmieStreet.com

AmieStreet.com is an online music destination that is changing the way people discover and buy music. Founded in the Spring of 2006 by then Brown University seniors -- Josh Boltuch, Elliott Breece and Elias Roman -- AmieStreet.com is a site where the members of the community determine the price of songs, which start out free and rise in price the more they are purchased. The site also rewards its members with downloads when they recognize and recommend tracks that rise in price, giving users an incentive to find and recommend good music first, while giving artists the platform to promote and sell their music.

Amazon.com Forward-Looking Statements

This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management's expectations. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, significant amount of indebtedness, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com's financial results is included in Amazon.com's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2006, and all subsequent filings.



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[collaborative book]

I've just been reading the Marketing Profs blog again (I highly recommend it) and one of the top five reads of this week is Christina Kerley's post on "The Age of Conversation--a precedent-setting collaborative book by 103 authors hailing from every U.S. time zone, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, India and Oman."

"In what began as a half dare, the editors, Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan challenged bloggers around the world to contribute one page — 400 words — on the topic of “conversation”. The resulting book, The Age of Conversation, brings together over 100 of the world’s leading marketers, writers, thinkers and creative innovators in a ground-breaking and unusual publication. And in the spirit of conversation, you can follow-up and extend your interest in the topics covered in the book at the Age of Conversation blog — http://www.ageofconversation.com/."

This collaborative novel is reminscent of DMU's online MA in Creative Writing and New Media's One Million Penguins project. I wonder how it might have evolved if the idea was to produce a printable book rather than a wiki-novel? Perhaps a future project for Penguin and the Master's group...
This also raises questions for the concept of transliteracy and collaboration. Is transliteracy analogous to collaboration and community? To be transliterate must one also approve of the spirit of community and collaboration? How might the individual feature in transliteracy (or is there an "individual"?) I suppose we'll need a way of negotiating the wisdom of crowds and independent thinking.

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[digitise or...don't]

Perhaps the Digitise or Die panel at London's Southbank Center precipitated fresh uneasiness for Faber & Faber (chief exec. Stephen Page was a panel member), inducing a quick move to snap up rights to Beckett's works (ah...print). I guess Page hasn't yet been able to answer his own musing: "How do we make money online?" and possibly is feeling remorseful on Faber's behalf for turning down the opportunity that came up 50 years ago.

Samuel Beckett For the whole story see The Guardian:
"Fifty years after turning down the opportunity to publish Samuel Beckett's work outside the theatre, Faber and Faber have snapped up the rights to his fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The complicated four-way deal involving John Calder, the writer's estate and French publishers Editions de Minuit unites the English-language publishing rights to his work as a whole for the first time."

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[the reading revolution]

On Tuesday the 3rd of July I'll be speaking along with Cally Poplak, Director of Egmont Press, Paul Duffield, Manga Artist, Sue Horner, Head of Standards and Assessment Policy, QCA, and Joshua Beasley (he will offer the views of a "young person"). We'll be discussing what reading means today, in the 21st century. Of course I'm going to talk about reading online and the need for critical literacy as well as multi-modal sensibilities.

I don't know about the others, but since I'm on the panel I know it won't be a repeat of the recent very one-sided Digitise or Die session held the South Bank Center in London.

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[the earth and sky of jacques dorme]

On the train up to Leicester I began reading a new - non-research related - book: The Earth and Sky of Jacues Dorme by Russian Andreï Makin. Although I am reading the translation, (I know, tut-tut) the writing I find truly poetic. The language is...delectable, edible, exquisite, I am pulled in and I don't want to leave. Have a taste:

"Amid the fierceness of their lovemaking early in the night he snapped the thread of the old necklace she never took off. The little amver beads clattered onto the floor and as the rain began to fall, it at first mimicked this fine rattle of grapeshot, then changed its tune, turning into a downpour, torrents of water and, ultimately, an ocean surge that flooded into the room. Afte ra blazing hot day, with the dry wind rustling like insect wings, this tidal wave reaches their naked bodies, filling the sheets with the damp aroma of leaves, the bitter freshness of the plains" (3).

nb: I'm quoting from an uncorrected bound proof - so this could look different in the published version.

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[digitise or die: a personal reflection]

xposted at the PaRT blog.

chairsAs I entered the empty auditorium (I was the first there) I paused and took in my surroundings: padded leatherette seats for the audience, modern, sleek white armchairs for the panel, a bottle of water next to each long-necked microphone, dimmed lights, shining stage, and a background image centered behind the panel announcing the speakers and the title of the talk. I then settled in, ready for "compelling arguments" which, I read, would "leave [me] with a renewed enthusiasm for books and vowing to spend less time online."

Well...that didn't happen.

I suppose activating my prior knowledge (hearing an Atwood interview on
Start the Week earlier in the day) and noting the bold "or" in the title of the talk should have dampened my enthusiasm. But it didn't. I was eager to hear what contemporary authors and a publisher might have to say about current developments in technology very firmly vis-a-vis books.

From Left: Atwood, Page, O'Hagan, WagnerRather than tackle issues arising from the evolution and expansion of digital lit. (things like multimodality, transliteracy, deep learning vs. surface learning, changing roles of the author and reader) all four speakers seemed to focus on the materiality of the book (almost always referred to in its singular form). Atwood and Wagner seemed to find it especially important that we find a book sensual, we can touch it (Stephen Page added that we could smell books...including the glue used for binding...) and, of course, read it in a bath. However, won't printed pages soak or at least dampen, blurring the font and wrinkling the pages? Why might bringing a book into the bath be the test for "good" reading?

Besides, more people take showers these days than baths."

O'Hagan began the discussion with a story of how he "mispent his use" hunting for books and winding his way through the rows of books his local library had to offer - something impossible with e-books.

For O'Hagan the joy came from the difficulty of finding the books, they were "old" he says, "very often dusty and a little bit exclusive." "Democratization brings to an end that [notion] of exclusivity." Now, this seems to be the key and in fact the notion of exclusivity kept making an appearence throughout the remainder of the presentation. O'Hagan also made sure to equate exclusivity of reading with a eduction, taste, judgement - all serious qualities that the "democratization" of books (I think he means Austen's availablity on Project Gutenberg) threatens to "demolish" the world of books. "Throwing everything out there" is a "terrible" thing because all readers (not sure whether he means the educated or uneducated ones...) only get a "terrible mishmash" of "unedited...unjudged, uncontrolled material..." This is where O'Hagan brings in the idea of copyright but, not in terms of money (as Atwood said, authors don't do numbers, their agents do) but in terms of being recognised for "serious" ideas. Copyright O'Hagan says is to "select, edit and present material in a way that actually has meaning and umm virtue."

On that note Page begins his segment of the talk by admitting that publishers, writers, all those print-folk, have been "softened-up" as "luddites" who are "sentimentally attached to cracking a book open and sniffing the pages..loving the glue." He says the "technophiles" would love this to be the case but, Page explains, "it's not the truth." He does go on to make a pertinent point in relation to copyright (but I think it can be extended to all digital development) that it is constantly under revision and changes and "makes itself appropriate for the market, gets relegislated...and is adapting very successfully to the modern environment" (however he does not mention Creative Commons et al.). Copyright "must be protected." Those technophiles mustn't think of copyright as something "rather inconvenient." Enter blogger jibe but thank goodness "we don't have to read that stuff anymore." In fact, with the plethora of stuff on the internet, Page admits it's "getting harder to attract people" (those educated readers?). He goes on to insert a quote here but wait, he's forgotten where he's read it, "one reads so many"

Interestingly, putting a positive spin on abundance (unlike O'Hagan), Page explains that intention becomes increasingly important as does finding something "good" and having "trusted recommendations" (sounds like he's been buying books on Amazon...)

Atwood then takes up the talk by suggesting a temporal change: had lastnight's discussion occurred 2000 years ago we would have been talking about "the death of the scroll." Well, that's what the title of the talk refers to then, digitise and authors and books die. At least Atwood exhibited a sense of humor, joking that if we stop publishing books we'll save trees - that's "the positive bit." Well, at least she mentioned a positive. What about access, what about empowerment, what about appealing to different kinds of learners, what about creativity, and why does digital lit. seem to be synonymous with supplanting "the book?" Sadly, it was Atwood's talk that left me the most disheartened. For her, a book is "having a voice with you" "even if that person is dead..." Does Atwood mean the author? So only dead people write books? The people in my row were certainly confused. Moving along, why would digital lit. be any different? Especially in the way the speakers were talking about online reading. For them it was exactly like a book, just text, appearing on a screen. No one mentioned the addition of images, sounds, and, most importantly especially from a pedagogical sense, interaction! This was not a discussion about the future of the book, this was a rant calling for the demise of reading text on a glaring computer screen. In fact Atwood explains, "We're supposed to be talking about computers and whether everybody is going to read your book on a computer...not yet." So that's digital lit.; a print novel not published on paper and left in it's "native" environment...hrm. Atwood goes on to say "it's very hard for one thing to read 500 consecutive pages of Anna Karina on a computer without having something go really wrong with your eyes." I think it would be difficult to read 500 pages straight of anything (nevermind the medium, I'd need a coffee break). How would you actually absorb that and then critically assess what was being said, by whom, and why? Fortuitously Atwood points out that "another thing with computers, you don't neurologically assimilate the information to the same extent that you do with the page...they've done tests of this and that's why when you send somebody a memo you have to itemise all the things you want them to do and number them otherwise they won't see those things."

Who are the "they" who have done such tests. Where were they conducted...what other tests share the same findings? I did some research and found Jakob Nielson explain how people read "web pages" (not memos, not digital lit...): "
People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word." Thus "we should teach students how to write hypertext and not how just to write printed documents." Exactly, and, we can teach students how to read online (see my lesson plan on Inanimate Alice). Even more crucially, I think, how are memos like novels or like digital lit.? How can these different objects which are crafted to perform different functions and employ different media, and (often) appeal to different audiences, be compared? Atwood sums up the inadequacy of this analogy when she responds to Page's call for "good" e-books by saying "what you mean by a good e-book is one that is really like a book" (not even a "good" book mind you, just a book.)

And so the talk continued until question time. Sadly Wagner didn't seem to moderate the question period and encourage either the panel to stop talking once questions had been (more or less) answered or more discussion from the floor. This resulted in only four questions being broached because certain participants felt it their duty to offer lengthy eulogies on the merits of the book (which no one really doubts). The first question was very good and raised my hopes and was asked by the director of accessiblity at a digital design agency concerning the accessibility of a digitised book (the font size can be easily changed, it can be turned into braille, and it can be transformed into audio) however "digital rights management threatens to slam the door shut...if copyright [drm] means there are such secure locks on digital books." Page answers: "I'm not quite sure how digital rights management would prevent that." Really, like this: "
The impact of compatibility limitations can be especially serious for users with special needs. For example, visually impaired users may not be able to access digital content effectively if DRM renders the content incompatible with specialized text-to-speech devices or software. See All Party Parliamentary Internet Group, supra note 3, at 13-14 (noting that DRM can “prevent the disabled from accessing digital content . . . because the specialist hardware and software that
is used to convert the content into speech, Braille, or large type, fails to interwork with the protected material

After the first question (emanating from the second row), Wagner made a tactical decision and seemed to prefer taking questions from the back (I was in the first row) and from more seasoned looking people, preferably those with pens and paper (I had a digital camera). The second question was directed at O'Hagan: "is there no quality in digital text" to which he responded that "it's true" that to read "literary" work (previously referred to as high-culture) one should be smart or educated but "fact is, education and a serious literary culture have a partnership." By ignoring the merits digital literature offers and the different and wider audience it might reach, nevermind it's still neophyte state, O'Hagan made a call for the "reinstating of that connection" (between "serious books" and education). And he doesn't mean students using google to write term papers...

Favourite Quotes: "What they mean by content, we mean books." "One reason you haven't heard much of the longtail is because it's become a boardroom cliche."
Key Words: serious, literature, bath, paper, glue, book, education, intelligence, exclusivity, high-culture

Personal Aside: just because readers enjoy digital literature or art does not mean that by fiat they just will not appreciate or understand print lit. Why does the anxiety that one will eclipse the other remain? And, how different might this presentation have been had a digital writer or artist been involved?

From Left: Page, Wagner, Atwood signing books after the presentation

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[Does storytelling change in context of new forms of media?]

A perenial question answered by Sue Thomas and Scott Lloyd DeWitt in this interview by Katie Haegele:

Reading a novel delivered in installments to your e-mail inbox is different from flipping through a book as you curl up in bed.
Animated hypertext poems that dance across your computer screen do a kind of storytelling different from poems that sit still on a page.

The reading experience is different for print versus digital, no doubt about that.

But what about the writing experience? Is literary writing for digital media different in a way that matters? This is a question I keep returning to as I interview a variety of digital writers for this column. Does good, old-fashioned storytelling really change just because it is distributed in new forms of media?

I asked Sue Thomas, professor of new media at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, what she thought. In conjunction with Kate Pullinger, author of the multimedia graphic novel Inanimate Alice, Thomas devised a master of arts program in creative writing and new media that is taught online.

"Good, old-fashioned storytelling was oral, and storytellers often changed their stories according to context and circumstance," Thomas said. "You only have to look at how simple fairy tales and urban legends evolve whilst still often keeping the core of the narrative intact to realize that they need a fluid environment to stay alive and fresh. Multimedia prevents the stagnation of fixed type and maintains a much longer tradition, stretching way back beyond the last 500 years."

As director of the digital media project at the Department of English at Ohio State University, Scott Lloyd DeWitt says he wants to "expand notions of literacy" rather than abandon print for something new.

"We are giving students the opportunity to produce a variety of digital media texts. Along the way, we ask them to think about the affordances of these media and make choices about using them according to their rhetorical goals: Who is your audience? What sense of ethos are you trying to establish? Where do you imagine this text appearing?"

In other words, the same questions writers have always asked.

Robert Coover, the T.B. Stowell Adjunct Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University, is a prominent novelist who realized in the late '80s that "the digital revolution was real and immediate; I wanted my students to be wholly aware of what was happening and comfortable with it."

Today he leads the groundbreaking Cave Writing Workshop, a spatial hypertext writing workshop in immersive virtual reality he dreamed up in 2002.

Electronic-writing workshops are in many ways similar to traditional writing workshops, Coover said: Students are given a project they present to the class for critique. But Cave Writing is unique. Powered by a high-performance parallel computer, the Cave is an eight-foot-square room with high-resolution stereo graphics shown on three walls and the floor. Students do not simply "write a story" - they create 360-degree multimedia projects incorporating images, sound, art and text. Imagine standing in the middle of this room as a multimedia narrative is projected all around you, and you've got the "immersive" part of the equation.

Coover, who wrote an essay titled "The End of Books" for the New York Times Book Review in 1992, says new literary forms don't emerge simply because the artist wants them to.

"Art forms are partly made by audiences," he said, "and if the reading public was in the process of moving from page to screen, then young writers had to understand that and know how to live and write in the new world. . . . E-writing is a very collaborative genre, often involving writers, artists, composers, and computer programmers."

That made me think that the image of the writer suffering over her masterpiece in solitude might soon become out of date - which wasn't a bad thought at all.


To experience "Inanimate Alice," go to http://www.inanimatealice.com/

For more on Robert Coover's Cave Writing Workshops, go to http://www.cascv.brown.edu/cavewriting/workshop.html

Katie Haegele (katie@thelalatheory.com) is a writer who lives in Montgomery County. She just bought a pin from the independent publishing resource Fall of Autumn that says "My zine has a MySpace," because hers does.

Thanks to Chris for the heads up.

Update: Thanks to Ian for pointing me to PurpleCar's post on this interview. She makes an excellent point: "As writers, we want the reader to feel immersed in our fiction world. Is adding music and images "cheating?" By no means will digitalit wipe away traditional literature, just as the written word hasn't erased oral traditions."

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[bob stein visits the ioct]

Today we had a wonderful treat, Bob Stein, from the Future of the Book in New York, came over to talk about "Reading and Writing In The Networked Area." Bob was incredibly easy to listen to with an eloquence that is not often apparent in talks that I've been to. Here are just a few words used that made me sit up straighter:


When I wasn't mulling over Bob's eloquence I managed to jot down a few points:

bob stein

  • books are the one medium where user/reader is in control - random access, reader chooses when to turn the pages, how long to spend on each page, whether to flip to back or middle...

  • producer-driven media will turn into consumer-driven media

  • suddenly this richer media (multi-media cds were the example) is under our control which encourages deep reflection

  • the advantage of making physical books electronic include adding source documents, original text alongside the author's comments on the making/writing of the work which Bob says makes for a much richer reading experience

  • books are authoritative "frozen" objects

  • books are vehicles for moving ideas around time and space to "enable, encourage, engender conversation"

  • blogs are opportunities to "think out loud" where the author can gather a "coterie" or readers/co-conspiritors

  • it took 70 years to figure out page numbers so of course we're still figuring out new media/electronic works

*update* on the train to London Kate Pullinger and Bob Stein illustrate their techy tendencies:

*Update 2* Bruce has written an interesting post on Bob Stein's talk at the PaRT blog.
*Update 3* Chris Joseph writes about Stein's multimedia authoring platform - Sophie.

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[happy world book day]

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In a survey to mark the tenth anniversary of World Book Day these are the world's favourite books (2000 people participated):

1) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen 20%
2) Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein 17%
3) Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte 14%
4) Harry Potter books – J K Rowling 12%
5) To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee 9.5%
6) The Bible 9%
7) Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte 8.5%
8) 1984 – George Orwell 6% tied with His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman 6%
10) Great Expectations – Charles Dickens .55%

Here are a few of my favourite reads (in no particular order):

  • La Divina Commedia - Dante Alighieri

  • A Natural History of the Senses - Diane Ackerman

  • The Oxford English Dictionary (this is a great help when it comes to scrabble!)

  • Beloved - Toni Morrison

  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

  • Lives of Girls and Women: A Novel - Alice Munro

  • The Doors of Perception - Aldous Huxley

  • Nomadic Subjects - Rosi Braidotti (academic, I know, but such a good read)

  • Wise Children - Angela Carter (I love the Shakespearean references down to the road Nora and Dora grow up on: Bard Rd.)

  • Goblin Market and Other Poems - Christina Rossetti (interestingly, Gabriele Rossetti, Christina's father, was born in Vasto, Italy, the very place I spent my early years and where I now enjoy my summers)

              • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

              • Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (One summer in Italy, at 11 years old, this is the only thing I read and reread and reread

              and the list can go on and on and on....

              BTW: an excellent site that promotes children's love of books and has some excellent reviews, check out Jen Robinson's book blog.

              Hrm. What are your top ten reads?

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