A Review of Christian Vandendorpe’s: Reading on a Screen: The New Media Sphere

digitalVandendorpe’s article is about how reading has evolved and how technology is changing it. I found it particularly interesting because it was written before e-books and reading technology became so popular. Vandendorpe was able to predict the success of digital reading, he knew it was going to be the way forward. In this article, he deals with a number of topics which include: the evolution of reading, how it went from print to screen, the issue of legibility, the advent of hypertext and the birth of the e-book. At the moment how reading is changing is very topical and there are endless amount on articles on the future of reading. Here is an easy to read article.

How we read is not just based on how we taught to, but also on the nature of the text to be read and more importantly the media on which the text is written. To be able to understand the advent of the computer and the internet we must take into consideration its history. The history of reading is closely linked to the history of of books. The most important milestone in the history of books was the adoption of the codex format (book format). Codex came about when Christians adopted it, they used it instead of scrolls because it was cheaper, easier to hold and you could write on both sides. It seems that text has always been developed in a way which makes it easier for us. The Gutenberg printing press bought reading into the modern era. There were spaces between words, punctuation developed, pages were numbered, there were titles, tables etc. A book gives a reader power, they can read at there own pace. Reading became a ‘distinct cognitive experience autonomous from the spoken word’.

The 1980s saw print move to the screens, the personal computer made the writing process easier. But the screen as a reading device was not recognised. At the time it did not look like the computer would ever be a threat to the printed book. It is weird to see how so much has changed, now printed books and technology are in competition. The amount of people opting for an e-book instead of a paperback is constantly increasing. Here is a link showing kindles popularity. Vandendorpe uses Heyer 1986 ( “The Creative Challenge of CD-ROM.” In S. Lambert and S. Ropiequet (Eds.)) theory of how we gather information. Heyer cleverly uses metaphors borrowed from the way our ancestors gathered food: grazing, browsing and hunting. In gathering mode, as a reader we take in all of the information, in browsing mode we pick out relevant information and in hunting mode we find specific information. Google takes on the role of hunting, when we type something in to google we are looking for something specific and google can always find it for us. This article also discusses legibility, words on a screen have become clearly and we can adjust the sie of them to suit the individuals needs.

A major difference that I find and the article points out is that when reading off a screen you have no visual control. When reading books you turn pages, books are much more flexible, you can flick from page to page or read from cover to cover. The Gutenberg project 1971 was the first digital library, in 2004 Google revealed its plans to digitize 15 million books. Most publishers were not happy with this idea but at the time e-books had not taken off. Digitizing has its advantage in the sense that books or other reading materials are easily available and it will ensure that there will always be a copy of transcripts that are important to cultures. Generations from now will have easy access to literature that maybe defines our current culture.

The advent of hypertext made finding relevant information easier again. ‘Hypertexts’ primary goal was to have a system of articles combine sections of interest and record the reading session. A hypertext enables web users to access other information on webpages or other electronic documents by clicking on links within specific webpages. Clicking from one text to another makes reading light, we are often distracted and find it hard to have just one line of thought. Vandendorpe points out the difference in reading off a screen and reading from a book. Usually when reading a book we have one thought process but with the net are thought processes are free to go in whatever direction they want.

To finish with Vandendorpe discusses the birth of the e-book and the future of reading. The idea of the e-book has been around for much longer than many of us realise, most of us think it has only been around for a few years. As we know the future of reading lies in the hands of technology. Like everything it has its advantages and disadvantages, but it does making the reading experience (in my opinion) easier in more sense than one. Overall I found this article enjoyable, Vandendorpe keeps to point and made very good predictions.

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment