10.0363 books real and virtual

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 25 Oct 1996 20:01:46 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 363.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu> (23)
Subject: Re: 10.0360 books real and virtual

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (45)
Subject: book & crooks

[3] From: Hope Greenberg <hag@moose.uvm.edu> (46)
Subject: Re: 10.0360 books real and virtual

Date: Thu, 24 Oct 1996 18:00:35 -0400
From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0360 books real and virtual

Marta Steele writes:

> I like the point about the facility to write and read on Macs and
> Windows, yet you have to admit the experience differs greatly from
> sitting in front of your hearth, reading a book and scrawling your
> reactions in the margin.

Yes, it does -- one major difference being that when you post _these_ marginal
scrawls, others get to read them, including possibly the author of your

It's as if books were always the playground of the mind, but very much a
sandbox for one until you were admitted into the company of the Big Kids and
were allowed to publish. With the networked computer, anyone can join -- at
least one game or another.

It's true that you can write these notes on your PC and never post them, but
unless the exercise is deliberately introspective (i.e. unless you drop the
pretence that your words will ever reach out), such a practice gets to seem
kind of idiotic (at least in a literal sense of a closed private world). (I say
this not to censure, being prone to it myself.)

Fundamentally, books meant that you could have your reactions, and they were
privately yours. This can be great for those who work to sort things through on
a personal level; but this kind of activity is also one which serves to let us
indulge our prejudices without facing consequences. In e-text, we have a
greater power to respond, i.e. to take responsibility -- and when we do, others
tend to hold us to it. It's a moral exercise of a very different kind.

-- Wendell Piez

Date: Thu, 24 Oct 1996 21:22:29 -0400 (EDT)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: book & crooks


The following remarks will explain my question to you:
how much influence does an editor/instigator have over the shaping of
a debate?

Some exerpts from my remarks prompted by a question from Robert Fowler
There is a leap in here between periodization and comparison. Indeed an
acquaintance with parallel time lines, their construction and reading,
is at play in these remarks....

> I like the juxtaposition of Dr. Cohen's remarks with mine. It
> became clear to me that when I say "book" I don't think _codex_.
> I have in mind a process of book production. What I am describing is
> perhaps better captured by the phenomenological distinction between
> the text and the work. In this context I don't find technological
> periodization useful without the corrective of cross-cultural
> comparisons. Dr. Cohen's remarks on permanence become very
> interesting when one thinks of how the manuscript of Beowulf came down
> to us stuffed in the spine of another book. They become rather more
> interesting when we move beyond codex and reflect upon cuniform
> tablets and scraps of papyri. This allows us to tackle cognitive
> dissonance or, if I may be so bold, to disambiguate not conflicting
> reactions to the creation of electronic texts but the discourse
> reporting those reactions. What emerges is a neat shift in the
> rhetoric pro/contra codex or pro/contra electronic text depending upon
> how the audience is perceived by the speaker.

> Some interventions aim at pushing scholars and theorists to avoid the
> either/or and decidedly fight for access to the activity of reading
> and writing or, as Marta Steeles in aptly depriviligning the linguistic
> moment comes close to advocating, a right to communicate.
> [According to U.S. jurisprudence this would amount to
> emphasing right of association and speech. Add that tradition
> to the European and Canadian assertion of moral rights in
> copyright law and a lot of clarity comes streaming in upon
> the simple question of who may communicate with whom for how
> long. Aristotle has a passage in the Poetics about how the
> best plays are neither too short nor too long. Of course it
> is the polis that regulates such matters.]
> A right to communicate is paramount to a right to play.

Answer to my own question:
Only as much as you let them have.

You might to cast out the question as to how the myopism of the
techno-haves is aided and abetted by "codex fetischism" and its cousin
"electronic reification".


Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 10:14:55 +0000
From: Hope Greenberg <hag@moose.uvm.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0360 books real and virtual

Marta Steele says:
>I like the point about the facility to write and read on Macs and
>Windows, yet you have to admit the experience differs greatly from
>sitting in front of your hearth, reading a book and scrawling your
>reactions in the margin. Now I ask, if we become more
>computer-oriented and spend more time reading from screens rather
>than books because our reading process will evolve into a "higher
>life form," (this is just a supposition), I wonder how knowledge and
>consciousness and thinking altogether will be affected.

Having been through the book versus computer discussion many times
(Book: "I can take it to the beach, I can cuddle with it, I can read it
more easily, it feels nice, it lasts, I don't have to plug it in or run
it on a battery") and (PC: "I can create smart text, I can search it, I
can manipulate text more easily, I can share text immediately, I can
communicate quickly, I can include non-text more easily"), I wonder if
we are worrying about the design of the front door when the whole house
stands before us.

We've grown up with futuristic visions being trotted out daily, always
prefaced by "someday we will. . ." but now they are actually being
created. Take a look at a group of students at MIT who have been wearing
computers for several years (Steve Mann at http://www.wearcam.org/, the
group at http://lcs.www.media.mit.edu/projects/wearable/) or for a
lighter, more general idea see Negroponte's brief article on wearable
computing at

What happens to our consciousness and thinking, indeed, when putting on
our shoes in the morning boots up our computer and powers it throughout
the day, when our "screen" is hoovering in front of our glasses, when
"networking" and passing data is done with a literal handshake, when the
'net is always there when you want it, when you can type your manuscript
with a hand held device the size of a mouse and all these things
interact with the computers built into the world around you? There are
active prototypes for all these possibilities in use right now--not
futuristic vaporware at all.

So, when my 12 year old daughter goes off to college in a world where
computing is more intimately bound up in what we do, when it is an
ubiquitous part of our immediate environment and not an unwieldy box
over there that is hard to read from, what will humanities computing be?
Hmmm....I think I'll go invent the "new book," a fold out padded bit of
cardboard in a variety of colors that I can focus my computer display
glasses on so I have a nice calming surface to read from and that is
emminently "cuddle-able."

- Hope

Hope Greenberg
University of Vermont