To Read or Not to Read

Technology is often described as “transformational”, but who would have thought the internet would have such an impact on society. With the internet around for over twenty years now it is very surprising that it is only now it is taking over the world of reading. Reading has never been so easy: new computer technology and ‘gadgets’ have made access to reading material easier than ever. It is also cost efficient and with the hard times we are currently facing is it any wonder people are opting for the cheaper alternative of downloading reading material.

Before printing came into force stories and knowledge were passed on orally from memory but for as long as we have known everything has been available to us via print. Now that the digital age is taking over, with the ever increasing popularity of eBooks, kindles and ipads etc people are now downloading more than ever. Technology is constantly changing, improving and making our lives easier. But is it making it too easy? The way we read has changed and with continual updates in technology a question that is commonly asked is how is the way we read affecting the way we think and how we consume information?

As humans we are programmed to think in a linear fashion. Linear thinking is a process of thought following known cycles or a step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken. The internet works in a non-linear fashion, it is not restricted, and it can go off in any direction it wants. This is why when you key in just one word into a search engine it provides you with a number of results. It can find relevant information quickly because it is not confined to take just one route. Non-linear thinking is best explained by comparing it to a brainstorm. Thoughts go off in multiple directions; there are a number of possible starting points. A problem with linear-thinking is that as a thought process we are forced to agonize over where to start, hence the delayed start to carrying out the action. With so many options we are less focused and more easily distracted. A perfect example of this is when we are on a website such as Wikipedia. I find I would be reading then I see a link that I find interesting but not necessarily relevant to the task I am meant to be performing. Before I know it I am off track. T.S Elliot once said “To be distracted from distraction by distraction”. With the internet we read and think in different ways and we do not even realise we are doing it. This makes it an incoherent reading experience. A Roman Philosopher once said “To be everywhere is to be nowhere”. Looking at a screen our thoughts become scattered and our memories weakened.

With online reading proving to be a success, it seems that with the introduction of kindles and other technologies reading appears to becoming social again. Many people have direct links from their twitter or facebook accounts to their kindle or ipad. They can discuss books they have just read, upload passages, and request information on books they wish to read and receive feedback. Although the use of such technologies has made reading social, it is important to look at the cognitive effects. Developmental psychologists have found that our thinking has become less vigorous and automatic. Every medium we use develops some cognitive skill at the expense of another. Our growing use of screen based media has strengthened our visual spatial intelligence. An example of what I mean by this is that you are able to visualise things in your mind, the ability to know where you are in regards to space (i.e. good mapping skills). This strength is accompanied by new weaknesses in higher cognitive processes. Our thinking is not as critical anymore and our problem solving skills are impaired. What I have come to notice is the over-use of the phrase “Google it”. When faced with a problem or in need of an answer to a question instead of thinking about it ourselves we are tuning to Google. I recently read an article which said and I quote “What the net seems to be doing is chipping away our capacity for concentration and contemplation. The internet is steering us towards the ‘shallows’”.

When reading off the net we are more likely to skim read or speed read. Now it is almost automatic. We have developed a skill which allows us to read an article and quickly pick out relevant sentences or phrases. This is a good skill to have, as we all know sometimes it is impossible have enough time to read everything. However, will this automated habit of skim reading affect our reading of a novel off an ipad or kindle? We are more likely to skim read when reading off a screen than we are when reading a paperback. When reading we use two pathways: The ventral pathway and dorsal stream way. The ventral route accounts for most of our reading, it is efficient and direct. This pathway makes reading seem effortless. We see letters, convert them into words and attach a meaning. The dorsal stream switches on when have to focus more on what we are reading, for example with bad handwriting we have to concentrate that bit harder to make it legible, or to understand a difficult word. This extra work in a sense wakes us up – we pay closer attention to what we are reading. E-books and other technologies have a bright clear screen and they even have an app where words can be defined. The slower we read the more we absorb both consciously and unconsciously. We do not just scan the words, we contemplate their meaning. Although it is now easier to read than it ever was it is important to make sure that the reading experience does not become too easy.

Reading digitally is the way forward but there are people for and against it. Some love that they can have any number of books that they have stored on one device whilst others will refuse to let go of their hardback. In spite of all the conflicting arguments, one factor that will always be constant is that it is the meaning behind the words that will forever remain important not what we read them from.


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Published in: on August 6, 2011 at 11:44 am  Leave a Comment  

A Review of James Cummings: The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature

TEIJames Cummings article on TEI and the study of literature gives us a detailed account of the purpose of digitizing. The overall concept of TEI was so that originally printed texts to become electronic texts in the majority of linguistics and literary disciplines. It also sets guidelines, these guidelines are used for many text encoding projects. With new projects and new recommendations, they change as a result of both technology and theory. SGML and XML are constantly evolving and improving.

The Poughkeepsie Principles form the theoretical basis from which the TEI has developed. These principles are in place to provide a standard format for data interchange in humanities research and they also give an outline for the encoding of texts in the same format. These guidelines change as projects change. Each project will be different, different projects require different principles. Cummings points out that XML has been a success throughout the world. XML is now used as a storage format for mostly everything. The difference in SGML and XML is significant, SGML describes a document’s structure. Overall, XML is a much easier mark up language for text.

TEI was founded long before the world wide web, which explains why textual criticism has had a more direct effect on the development TEI. Cummings makes reference to Van Reenens and Van Mulken 1996 theory that textual criticism has three basic parts: Cladistics, this is the statistical analysis to determine which texts are most likely to be correct; Electicism, this is the editor choosing a particular reading as the critical text which is the easiest to perceive. The third branch of textual criticism is stemmatics, and I will quote from the text as I found this point the most difficult to interpret: “The more likely readings of a text are determined through the classification of the witnesses into grouping based on perceived phylogenetic relationships of the readings they contain. Overall TEI is designed to provide a better understanding of the text and electronic markup.

Cummings quotes the foundations of modern electronic scholarly editions, he believes that of all eight, there are three that must be met. They are longevity, accessibility; and intellectual integrity. The need for accessibility refers to a version of software which is required to run a certain programme. Longevity is dependent on market forces for support. In order for it to be able to function properly it relies on accessibility. Intellectual integrity is an important requirement that has to be met; The point of producing scholarly editions is to meet the needs of its readers intellectually. Like everything else that is produced it is designed to meet the needs of its users.

The main body of this article is based on the framework TEI provides for publishers, editors and scholars who wish to digitize their work. As we know more and more literature is available to us via a digital medium. Having literature readily available makes the reading experience a lot easier. The people creating them must ensure that they are available to everyone no matter where they are in the world and what language they speak. Scholarly editions have to be kept up to date with the latest advances in technology and they must be easy to use and reliable. When this article was written Cummings new that it was inevitable that soon printed books would be inferior to online books. With online books and such technologies like ipads and kindles becoming even more popular there is a possibility books could be left on the shelf but in saying that there will always be a place for printed editions. This article was long and hard to read but I would recommend it if you wish to further your understanding of TEI.

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Review of Marie-Laure Ryan’s: Fictional Worlds in the Digital Age

GamesMarie-Laure Ryan focuses her attention on immersion, how a reader has the ability to immerse oneself from the real world into another world created by imagination. She begins by pointing out that there is nothing more enjoyable than the immersion of the embodied mind into the fictional world. Unlike non-fiction texts we can let the imagination run wild, there are no restrictions enforced like there are in the real world. Ryan exercises the point that immersion is still the most fundamental of literary pleasures. In Wordswoth words we have to ‘suspend disbelief’ in order to achieve complete and utter immersion in a text. This article aims to investigate how digital media affects the experience of fictional worlds and the practice of fiction. We all know what fiction is and how much fun it can be. We have all spent countless hours playing make believe games, and for the duration of the game we have spent our time complete immersed, the world we were acting in at the time was every bit real to us. Ryan describes this as ‘virtual reality’, throughout this article she places immense emphasis on the role of the imagination.

Once again the internet seems to be taking over, the internet enables us to not just imagine but let us watch our imagination. MOOs (MUD Object Oriented) are an example of the worlds that exist in the digital medium. MOOs enable us to develop a fictional persona, also known as an ‘Avatar’. Here is a video I found on youtube. We all know about the film Avatar and even if you did not see the film I am sure you will have a basic understanding of its plot. Computers allowed humans to go into another world virtually, their minds were somewhere else while their bodies remained in reality. The way an avatar is created is not too different from the way a novelist creates its world. A user can bring together their avatars world like a novelist brings togethers theirs. Imaginary worlds are fake worlds where nothing is ‘set in stone’. In a non technical way a novelist programmes the novel. A writer uses his or hers thoughts like the internet uses codes; codes and thoughts come together to create a story, anew world. Ryan points out the difference in online imaginary worlds and narrative imaginary worlds. Micronations are a collection of descriptive documents, and it is the user who is the explorer of the website. In novels it is a narrative line that make us follower the traveller and explore his discoveries. Online imaginary worlds gives the user complete power and control, each user has their own reason behind their virtual creation. This is perhaps one reason why each virtual online world does not have many followers like a game like Grand Theft Auto does.

Video games are vastly more popular than online games, the player can impersonate and control a character who takes an active part in the evolution of a fictional world. Here is a website of online imaginary games if you would like to experience the world of online games. Video games are categorized into two groups: the Paidia and Ludus. Paidia is simply defined as the ability to free the imagination. There are no existing rules of the game, if there are rules then they are created spontaneously by the participants. By contrast, Ludus games are controlled by pre existing rules, participants accept and follow them. Video games are coded so cheating the system is extremely difficult. I would not know too much about codes to cheat on a video game but I have heard ‘cheating codes’ that are available on the internet. Ryan points out in the article that even if you were to cheat on a video game the imagination is still used: “Cheating in computer games is finding imaginative ways to get around the code, rather than transgressing it.” With a quick google search I was able to find a website with cheating codes for Grand Theft Auto. Games like GTA allow the player to carry out tasks, they have direct interaction with the game.

There is no limit to the fictional world, it can grow and grow and can go as far away from reality as it likes. Digital texts can improve and develop and they do not depend on the user to update them, like online games. This contrasts with books and film reels, they do not have any codes inscribed in them to update them. To finish up Ryan once again highlights a difference in books on the digital world and how our imagination works. Digitally we are immersed immediately, it is our own imaginary world that we construct, when reading a novel it takes time, we have to construct worlds based on textual information. Obviously, the digital way saves a lot of cognitive effort. The online world waits for no-one, if you a playing a multi-player online game and do not play it for a few days you will find that you have been left behind. Online games are very different from traditional narratives. For example, in a novel once something has happened it is done and the act does not have to be performed again, Ryan uses the example of a knight slaying a dragon. Digitally, a death does not always mean death, in Grand Theft Auto the player has lives he dies over and over. A part of the essay that I found particularly interesting was the part where Ryan dealt with fiction and reality and where the boundaries lie and that some people find more self-fulfillment in the fictional world rather than reality. In saying that does it count for anything? At the end of the day what does it really matter if you have the highest score or made it to level 25 in Grand Theft Auto. What matters is reality and people must remember that these two worlds do not have the same value in terms of existence. Overall, I would recommend this article to be read by those who have an interest in the digital world. Sometimes it is nice to escape the real world as long as we can always manage to differentiate between what is real and what is not.

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  

A Review Of Ken Price’s Electronic Scholarly Editions

Compared with Aimeee Morrisons article I had to re-read this one a few extra times, but I presume I am not alone (hopefully anyways). In this article Price sets out to highlight the reasons why electronic editions are created and how they have set out to shape our future. He then follows on by discussing digital libaries and scholarly editions and the roles they play in the digital resource arena. With Electronic Scholarly Editions there are some ‘teething problems’ regarding costs, complications, audience, text translations and future developments. With a huge amount of time and money the digital scholarship has great potential. With the development of such projects it cannot be completed by one person, it relies fundamentally on collaboration. Thoes that are necessary are likely to be categorized under such titles: Librarians, archivists, graduate students and undergraduates. When creating a electronic edition, design choices have to be taken into account. This is a new experience for many editors, and in order for it to be successful they are required to have some knowledge of the technical issues. For example: mark-up of texts and database design. Price in this article explores the reasons behind why so many scholarly editors find an uncertain project like scholarly editions so attractive. He wants us to fully comprehend what an edition is and how technology can make it better.

When addressing the issue of electronic editions he takes into account Jerome McGann arguement which in short says that not enough has been done to recognise editorial work and the new possibilities of the digital medium. An archive can be how exactly the author wants it to be, it allows them to publish their own work without the interfence of an outsider. When something is published it is edited by the editor, how a work is presented to an editor by the author in the first place is never how it looks as a finished product. The ‘Blake Archive‘ is used as a perfect example in this article. We are given the opportunity to view the work by Blake himself in the way he wanted it to be viewed. With these types of Scholarly Editions they attract a different type of audience, this type of narrative offers no type of guidance. Price used a quote by William Horton to argue this point: “users expect the writers to lead them through the jungle of information”. A project like an archive aims to represent everything, but then why are they not as popular as they should be. Archives can sometimes be difficult to follow especially in comparison with a text. Having an edited form is a lot easier to understand and follow. Price argues that one of the reasons why people are making electronic editions is because of the challenges that they will encounter, in this medium you can change so much there is not one fixed pattern that has to be followed and it allows for a text to be constantly expanded and interpreted in a number of ways. Many well known Scholars have had their work digitized, here is an interesting article on when Shakespeare’s work was made into a digital archive. Another archive which is worth a look at and is mentioned in this article is the Walt Whitman Archive. walt

Price pays due attention to the work-in-progress aspect of an electronic edition. An electronic edition does not have to be completed before it is released, so when creating an archive the editor can release some of their work before it has been finished. He does however highlight a few of the pitfalls attached to this idea. Questions are raised to how will we know when it is finished and ready for use in a library system. Price points out that the internet is always changing technology and its display modes, this in turn means that archives will also have to change.

What can be achieved from digital scholarship has yet to be fully realised. Its software and hardware are constantly changing and becoming more advanced. He says that digital libraries produce quantity over quality and digital archives and editions produce work that is relevant to a specific area of study. Digitizing produces information and editing produces knowledge. To finish his article Price points out the problems to digital editions. Funding is a major one, and he highlights how important the development of XML and TEI is important to the development of digital editions. These editions are available to people all over the world via the web, therefore it is very important that it is accessible for everyone, there cannot be any language barriers. For writers who use this, it is very important that electronic scholarly editions adhere to international standards. Many scholars find it hard to manage interoperability, it is hard to make diverse systems work together, hence, a significant amount of the research potential of electronic work is lost. Price points to Marilyn Deegans remark on interoperability to allow us to fully comprehend the problems it can cause.

To finish with I feel that Price examines in detail what he believes to be the future regarding academics. Certain aspects of the article I found difficult to comprehend but that had more to do with my lack of understanding in this area of study rather that the way Price explained it. I would recommend to everyone to have a read of this article.
Ken Price

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 1:28 am  Comments Off on A Review Of Ken Price’s Electronic Scholarly Editions  

A Review of Aimeee Morrison’s Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice.

blogAimeee Morrison discusses the phenonemon of the blog or blogging and how it has changed (or how it is still changing).  She clearly defines blogs and blogging and focuses on the popularity of blogging, how it is used, who uses it, the privacy aspect of it and as the article unfolds she takes us into the depths of the blogosphere.

Morrison is able to explain what a blog is by clearly differentiating between a webpage and a private email, it is “not static like a webpage, but not private like an email…”  A blog can be so many different things to each individual person, some use it as a diary and others use it as a way to publish their literary works, blogs are very versitile hence the reason for the continous growing popularity of it.  Blogs are constantly being developed and now with all the new technology it is just as easy to set up a blog as it is to push a bottom, and with software like Technorati it is all the more easy.

Whilst Morrison informs us of how fun and exciting a blog can be she takes us back into history to where the blog came from. What I thought was particularly interesting was where the word ‘blog’ came from, it was quite cleverly, yet simply derieved from the word ‘weblog’. Merriam Webster won an award in 2004 for the ‘word of the year’ for the word ‘blog’.

With blogs they can be as basic or sophisticated as the individual wants. Each blog carries essential and optional characteristics, bloggers decide themselves what information they display and how they display it. Blogs are not like any other forms of digital writing because each blogger can decide everything about their blog. Bloggers can recieve feedback from their readers and as Morrison highlights in her article it is very important for there to be a relationship between the author and reader. She also discusses how blogs reference eachother through theblogroll

In the article Morrison talks about how blogs are particuarly popular all over the world but particularly in America. She refers back to 2004 when there was a huge increase in political blogs. American politicians were using blogs to promote their campaign and with Irelands elections approaching I was curious to see was there any Irish politicians using blogging or was it only social networking sites they were using. Here

Morrison aslo mentions that the most common users of blogs are young, male and have access to high-speed internet connections, have been online for more than six years, are financially prosperous, and have high levels of education. With blogs people can publish whatever they want, so even though the characterics of the most popular blogger seem promising the issue of the credibility of a blog must be always questioned. ‘Blog Carnival’ was a name given to blogs because it had similar features to a magazine but unlike magazines articles that are published are chosen according to popularity not on editors choice. What is posted on blogs can no longer be private. And as Morrison points out there is aslways an issue of privacy. There have been number of stories where employees have spoken about their employers (or vice versa) on blogs and as a result have been fired or action taken. Even if you are anonymous there is always some of your information attached to the blog so you can always be traced. The Privacy Electronic Frontier Foundation was set up in 2005. Because there is a lack of editorship and censure, blogs are often attacked by the print media. But if blogs were to be censured there would be a huge restriction imposed on the overall genre of blogs. The main genre of blogs is freedom, people can be who they want on blogs, they can use it for personal use or aspiring journalists and scholars can use it to publish work in hope that they might be noticed.

To keep people blogging, blogs must be left open despite the pressure from print media. The idea of the carnival is very interesting and it will be exciting to see how it develops in the blogosphere. Overall, I think i think Morrison makes some very interesting points but I think the issue of privacy has to be addressed more. When someone loses a job over blogging, it is hard to see blogging as fun.

Here is a link to this article and also there is an article from the guardian newspaper that you may find interesting link

Another article which I found interesting is on how people thought blogging was going to change journalism.

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm  Comments (1)