10.0377 books and reading

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 20:15:32 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 377.
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: David Sisk <sisk@macalester.edu> (27)
Subject: Re: 10.0372 real books

[2] From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@erols.com> (24)
Subject: Humanist reply

Date: Tue, 29 Oct 1996 14:58:44 -0600 (CST)
From: David Sisk <sisk@macalester.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0372 real books

Perhaps I have missed the point somewhere along the line, but I'm
having a hard time with the terms of the argument over books vs. e-texts
being an argument about _reading_. E-texts offer several very real
advantages in terms of preserving information in small amounts of space
(say, rare or crumbling books), permitting rapid searching and indexing,
and in making this material available more easily and quickly, copyright
allowing. In my experience, the act of reading off of a computer screen
"works" only for brief tidbits of information. The faculty and students
I have worked with, here and at other institutions, print out nearly
everything more than about three meaty paragraphs in length--including
e-mail. This is especially true for those doing research, who plan to
cite their sources and quote from them.
The fundamental difference I see between texts in book form and
texts in electronic form, as far as impact on the act of reading, is that
any computer capable of receiving e-texts almost certainly has lots of
other capabilities. Students and faculty tend to print material out for
later perusal because there are other things to be done on the computer:
other assignments or "fun" activities, such as games or e-mail. By
contrast, there's not much beyond reading you can do with a book, other
than making marginal comments, doodling on the endpapers and perhaps
tearing out the pages to make paper sculptures <g>. As long as computer
technology continues to add more kinds of capability, I think computers
will become _less_ likely to function as the primary vehicle for

David W. Sisk Assistant Director for Academic Computing
Macalester College / 1600 Grand Avenue / St. Paul, MN 55105-1899
sisk@macalester.edu / Voice: (612) 696-6745 / FAX: (612) 696-6778

Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 13:40:18 -0800
From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris@erols.com>
Subject: Humanist reply

Greg Lessard <lessard@francais.QueensU.CA> writes:

<<I am struck by the analogy with the introduction of electronic
technology in the humanities. What concerns me is that in the replies to
date, I don't see much evidence of attitude a) when it comes to
electronic books. Are we all too old (or at least middle-aged)? Or
should we see it as our duty as computing humanists to push the limits
of information Technology, which means trying it out every chance we
get? After all, (1) it's fun, and (2) if we don't, who will? >>

WRT the question of whether we are too old (or at least middle-aged): I
have a different perspective now from what I had only a few years ago.
Not a philosophical consideration of the merits one way or the other, but
a purely physical problem: I can't read a computer screen for very long
without numerous strains -- eyes, neck, brain, . . . .

I have difficulty maintaining my occupation (computer research
consultant) because of these challenges despite numerous changes
including special computer glasses, specially arranged furniture, larger
fonts, and such. So my intellectual interest in the notion of electronic
publication is tempered by my physical inability to deal with the medium.

Another of the 'wise' guys viewing the elephant, I remain,

Mary Dee Harris

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D.			202-387-0626	
Language Technology, Inc.		202-387-0625 (fax)
2153 California St. NW			mdharris@erols.com
Washington, DC 20008			mdharris@aol.com