Symposium Wrap-Up

KICK-OFF READING by Christian Bök

Co-Sponsored with Purple Blurb

        

We started the event with a kick-off reading, co-sponsored with Purple Blurb, featuring experimental poet Christian Bök, who has striven for ten years to engineer an unkillable bacterium so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem in its genome, but also an operant machine for writing a poem in response–a poem that might, in fact, outlive terrestrial civilization. Bök was introduced by Nick Montfort, and student readers Aimee Harrison and Alvin Mwijuka shared their work.

(Listen to a podcast here, or watch a video here. Please be patient while the media loads.)

OPEN HOUSE

MIT Archives & Special Collections, and the Wunsch Conservation Lab

On Friday morning, an open house at MIT Libraries allowed visitors to see some wonderful books. Above, Stephen Skuce and Pat Olson share some of the rare books in the Institute Archives. Below, Nancy Schrock demonstrates preservation practices in the Conservation Lab.

 

Welcoming Remarks

UNBOUND: Speculations on the Future of the Book
 

Amaranth Borsuk and Gretchen Henderson (Listen here. Please be patient while the podcast loads.)

Panel One

UNBINDING THE BOOK

Participants: Bonnie Mak (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), James Reid-Cunningham (Boston Athenaeum), Wyn Kelley (MIT Literature), Mary Fuller (MIT Literature)
Moderator: Gretchen Henderson (MIT Writing and Humanistic Studies)

(Listen here, or watch a video here. Please be patient while the media loads.)

Above: Mary Fuller, Wyn Kelley, James Reid-Cunningham, Bonnie Mak, Sign Interpreter

Bonnie Mak: “Entanglements of the Page”
Mak draws upon research on medieval manuscripts from her new book, How the Page Matters, to explore the role of the page in the production and transmission of knowledge.

James Reid-Cunningham: “The Long Happy Life of the Book”
Reid-Cunningham discusses the history of the codex, and why books didn’t die out long ago, while also examining the origins of contemporary book art, using some of his own books to describe the book as an artwork rather than a mere carrier of information.

Wyn Kelley: “Leaving an Open Margin: the Example of Herman Melville”
Kelley considers the margin as a creative space for writers, critics, and artists.

Mary Fuller: “Where the Old Things Are: The Books We Forget”
Fuller engages another kind of old book: the books that are uncatalogued, in storage, queued for discard in MIT’s storage annex, and think about the dynamics of forgetting books and collections as well as the work of returning them to memory.

Panel Two

RESHAPING THE BOOK

Participants: Gita Manaktala (MIT Press), Christian Bök (University of Calgary), Bob Stein (SocialBook)
Moderator: Amaranth Borsuk (MIT Writing and Humanistic Studies and Comparative Media Studies)

(Listen here, or watch a video here. Please be patient while the media loads.)

Above: Bob Stein, Gita Manaktala, Christian Bök

Gita Manaktala: “Shifts in Scholarly Publishing at MIT Press”

Manaktala considers key shifts in reading and writing practices and explains how editors are well-positioned to help their authors navigate this new terrain.

Bob Stein: “Social Book: A Post-Print Publishing Platform”

Stein suggests that the future of books is in collaborative reading and demonstrates the SocialBook platform.

Christian Bök: “The Xenotext”

Bök explains his decade-long project to encode a poem into the DNA of an extremophile that will encipher a poem in return, outlining both the scientific and conceptual/poetic process of writing The Xenotext.

Panel Three

ELECTRONIC LITERATURE & FUTURE BOOKS

Participants: N. Katherine Hayles (Duke University), Rita Raley (University of California Santa Barbara), Nick Montfort (Comparative Media Studies and Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, MIT)
Moderator: David Thorburn (MIT Literature and Comparative Media Studies)

(Listen here, or watch a video here. Please be patient while the media loads.)

Above: Rita Raley, N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort

N. Katherine Hayles: “Apophenia: David Clark’s 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein”

Hayles provides media-specific readings of Clark’s net art work and David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, both of which are “resistant experimental works […] within the traditions with which they associate themselves.”

 

Rita Raley: “Ian Hatcher’s ‘Signal To Noise'”

Raley argues that today’s texts are part of an “expanded field” continuously and dynamically created by communities of authors, commentators, and readers and facilitating intersubjective exchange.

Nick Montfort: “10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10”

Montfort explains this unusual line of code for the Commodore 64 and describes the process of writing a collaborative monograph analyzing this single line from a number of critical perspectives by ten authors using a single voice.

David Thorburn (Moderator)

A complete write-up of the panel is also available on the MIT Communications Forum website.


A Few Faces From Unbound

Thanks to a wonderful audience for engaged questions and thoughtful participation!

A Brief Snapshot of eBooks, Videotext, and Future Shock

a guest post by Linda VandeVrede

Ebooks have come a long way in the last three decades.  In 1983-84, when I was researching my master’s thesis at Boston University, ebooks were only just emerging and were referred to as “electronic novels.”   Many of us studying the industry foresaw their future popularity, but it took a bit longer than we anticipated and the screen clarity and ease of access have far surpassed our original predictions.

The first ebook – 1983   

The very first electronic novel was created in 1983 at a computer show in Toronto. Author Burke Campbell wrote a “suspense novelette” on an Apple III and sent it to the Source Telecomputing Corporation, a commercial enterprise based in McLean, Virginia, that provided information along telephone lines. Campbell created a 19-chapter, 20,000-word book, which was then edited by The Source, and made available to subscribers only three hours later. Subscribers had the choice of reading “Blind Pharoah” on their video display terminal, printing it, or storing it on a floppy disk. The cost to download the story was just over $2.00 for nighttime fees, cheaper than purchasing a paperback novel.

Videotext was a 2-way channel

Videotext was initially a government-subsidized service that had become popular in Europe in the 1970s. For that reason, it took off faster in Europe than in the United States, where it was a commercial enterprise. It was a two-way interactive system which transmitted information along telephone or cable lines to a specially adapted television set or home computer. Books as a service, however, as opposed to time-sensitive data, were considered rather a novelty at the time.

Factors Slowed Down Acceptance

The reason for this is that the television sets, video display terminals and home computers that received the information were very primitive. There was a lot of flickering on the screen, which made long-term reading very challenging. Refresh rates of the images was approximately only 30Hz – 60Hz.  Extensive reading off the screen was therefore not a pleasant experience.  Most people at the time could only see electronic delivery being viable for time-sensitive information. Indeed, Grolier Encyclopedia’s Academic American was provided online in the early 80s through Compuserve, another information retrieval system, and this was deemed a perfect delivery vehicle because it allowed easy updating and changes and smaller chunks of information.

Another factor that slowed acceptance of ebooks was the heavy cost to access the novels.  Fees for The Source were $20.75/hour during the day, and $7-10/hour in the evening.  There was both private and public Videotext at the time, but the costs were significant, and there was a learning curve among subscribers. Subscribers to the Source tended to be more affluent and more educated, based on demographic surveys conducted at the time.  This limited the initial acceptance and proliferation of the technology.

The big question facing publishers then was puzzling over where videotext would fit in relation to print publishing: what would be published, and for whom? The concept of being able to interact with the data, request changes, ask for more details and customize the information was revolutionary.

The next big development did not arrive until 2000, when authors Michael Crichton and Stephen King provided electronic books – the first big name authors to do so. They were part of an evolution of the growing online exchange of music spurred on by Napster and other services. Even as late as 2008, however, pundits were still saying that digital books couldn’t compete with the cozy familiarity of curling up by a fireside with a traditional print book. Recent statistics, however, have shown ebook formats surpassing traditional formats in sales. The changes to and acceptance of ebooks since 2008 have been exponential.

What does the future hold?

More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler predicted the information change in his book “Future Shock.” This is a time phenomenon, he wrote: “a product of the greatly accelerated rate of change in society. It arises from the superimposition of a new culture on an old one.  It is culture shock in one’s own society.” Children under the age of 12 have grown up around the concept of Kindles and Nooks. What major changes are in store for them in terms of their understanding of what a book is, as they grow older? Interesting to ponder.

a guest post by Linda VandeVrede

Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit (Christian Bök)

This is a guest post by Christian Bök, who launches the UNBOUND symposium tonight at 6PM in MIT’s 6-120 with his reading / talk “The Xenotext, For Now.”

Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit is also “bookish artware”—in this case, a codex, whose cover, spine, pages, and words consist of nothing but thousands of LEGO bricks, each one no bigger than a flat tile, four pegs in size. Each page is a rectangular plate of tiles, three layers thick, and the surface of each page depicts a black-and-white mosaic of words, spelling out a single line of poetry. Each line is an anagram that exhaustively permutes the fixed array of letters in the title, recombining them into a coherent sequence of statements about the relationship between atoms and words. The poem suggests that just as permuted elements can create compounds, so also can permuted phonemes create syllables. The letters of the poem become the literary variants of subatomic particles, and the book itself embodies these molecular metaphors, insofar it too consists of discrete elements that can be dismantled and recombined to form a radically different structure.

Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit might easily disintegrate into a granular pile of atomic debris, whereupon the reader can assemble these plastic remains into an unrelated sculpture. The book is a concrete allegory for what Jean Baudrillard calls a “‘Brownian’ stage of language, an emulsional stage of the signifier, homologous to the molecular stage of physical matter [—a stage] that liberates ‘harmonies’ of meaning just as fission or fusion liberates new molecular affinities.” The anagram does not recycle so much as atomize its meaning, dissecting it, dispersing it, until the title vanishes (just as the object itself might disintegrate into the entropy of its own molecular decay). I have sold this object for $9000.00 to the globally renowned artist Takashi Murakami (the founder of the pop-art movement called “Superflat,” a genre of Japanese painting that depicts psychedelic images of Pokémon—cartoonish characters that seem preternaturally two-dimensional).

 

ten maps of sardonic wit

 

atoms in space now drift

on a swift and epic storm

 

soft wind can stir a poem

 

 snow fits an optic dream

into a scant prism of dew

 

 words spin a faint comet

 

some words in fact paint

two stars of an epic mind

 

manic words spit on fate

Questions about Future Books

Today the “Unbound” symposium begins! As part of the registration process, we asked participants: “What questions do you have about the future of the book?” The responses follow ~ please add your questions in the comments!

What will be the future bodies of books?

What’s more perishable, a printed book on archival paper or a Kindle e-book?

What about access to special collections and rare books, given digitization?

Is the contemporary book form eternal?

Must poetry adapt to preserve its autonomy when read from a device with a screen?

What happens to publishers?

How will digitization effect art libraries/art research?

What changes will new publishing technologies bring to traditional modes of academic legitimacy / tenure / peer review, etc.?

What about access in many forms — open access enabled through digitization, accessibility of e-readers and e-texts to people with disabilities, making archival collections accessible to readers w/sight impairments?

In what ways can we move beyond the tired “death of the book” discussions and focus on the birth of something new? What are the possibilities?

Does the codex book revert to luxury item?

What about new technology and both the challenges and opportunities of that technology?

What is the future of the book as tangible object?

What about digital reading finances?

What is in the future of book discovery, especially in a world with fewer and fewer bookstores?

What are the economic implications behind the future of e-books?

What is the role of the publisher?

What is the role of intermediaries, the access, the collaboration?

How many futures are there?

What about the cultures/communities in which books and other means of info exchange derive meaning/significance, when I am in “the” book as such?

What about telegraphic code dictionaries, books as means to ends?

How do books as physical artifacts anchor truth in a virtual world?

How will traditional publishers embrace emerging technologies and expand their view of the definition of a book?

What new creative forms are made possible by ebooks?

What differences arise in how we read or view digital versus print material, especially in regards to attention and linearity (or non-linearity) and how those differences in form might effect thought processes?

How do we learn and be inspired by the book?

How will the evolving format of the book change the way people read?

Have we learned/are we learning anything about actual differences in the reading experience depending on format (print vs. digital)? (Retention; learning outcomes; aesthetic/emotional response, etc.)

Where are the convergences?

How will we be able to archive and study the progression of a manuscript through pre-publication stages in the electronic age?

How is the future book connected to its past?

What should libraries and librarians be doing to prepare themselves and their institutions for the future?

When will people accept that physical and electronic books must coexist?

How secure/stable/compatable is the archiving of e-books?

How will physical and digital components of books complement each other?

How will various forms of digital books – especially those with dynamic/link elements – be archived and cataloged?

Who pays for e-lit?

Can print and electronic co-exist?

When will printed books cease to be produced?

How will form change content?

What will be the future for hand bound books?

How will old book forms be valued, and their particular haptic values be viewed?

How can we reenergize interest in the book as a physical object? How can brick-and-mortar bookstores survive?

What can we learn about the books of the past to shape the books of the future? Is book the right word to talk about the “book” of the future? Who will have access to the books of the future? What happens to reading & writing in the book’s future?

Is it right around the corner or a long way off? How will we know? How much paper will it involve? What is a book, anyway?

What is meant by book?

What do we want academic publishing to be?

How will e-books achieve a more haptic or interactive aesthetic? It seems like several qualities of the physical book simply can’t be reproduced digitally.

Has the definition of what a book is already changed?

What continuities will we see with the book’s pasts?

What about e-book vs. traditional methods?

Will future technologies such as thin bendable displays with integrated computer/communications components allow a blending of print/electronic books so that a print text can also link to other resources via computer/communications strips embedded in the book — enabling the contents of the book to be updated with new information and links to other information?

With our attention spans getting shorter and shorter with every generation, what kind of future do books have? What does media — social and otherwise — mean for the future of books as objects?

How are authors responding creatively to the new possibilities of publishing in a post-artifact world?

How the publishing industry will have to compromise and adapt in the light of new technologies, and how this will affect readership?

What else can be a book?

Will books become more or less precious as we move toward the future?

Will printed books and bookstores survive the ebook movement?

For rare book dealers, what changing practices will arise in collecting, and new theories of the collectible? Maybe it’s time to rethink what’s “first.”

Are e-books here to stay?

How will digital technologies affect the costs of textbooks? Will the cost of textbooks become less of a contentious issue as they migrate into digital formats?

As companies like Amazon and Apple move into publishing, what are the implications, both in terms of what/who they publish and how we gain access to those titles?

When will we have great reader technology?

How will e-books impact collection development in academic libraries?

How will it impact the discovery and dissemination of knowledge and research?

The book and linear thinking; the book as object; having and holding vs. access; labor process and book production?

What about digital curriculum as well as the future of the publishing industry?

Is the future of the book something we should be so concerned with? Evolution is the trip itself, not the planning for it.  It will happen and maybe the anticipation is fun but it will be more like a roller coaster ride, we just hang on and enjoy the trills.

I have been dismayed by the amount of whining that I hear about the advent of digital media and hope to hear some intelligent people considering the ways in which new technologies will solve some problems of information dissemination that the book was not suited for — also would like to discuss the place of the physical book in a digital age, how the Espresso machine can work in tandem with digital publication, how literary production might develop, etc and so on? So long as there is no whining about how print is the only medium in which we should trade.

What forms will books take as time passes?

Ten year ago, folks at MIT were working on digital ink and now we have the Kindle. When and how we see the melding of digital tech with the tactile qualities of paper?

Will the book as we know it disappear forever?

What kinds of scholarship are fostered or constrained by printed books and by electronic books?

Can print and online books survive together and compliment each other?

How long will books be published?

Will there be books as we know them in the future?

What are the changing readerly practices, and how do they impact the relationship and roles of the author and the reader? How can/will book history inform the form and circulation of the the future of the book?

What about digital preservation solutions for e-books and related media?

Is there an “other side” to this watershed?

Can technology fully replace the experience of interacting with print material? What qualities would be required in a technology for that to happen? Will publishers really ever come to a place where they are comfortable publishing in only digital form and in a common format that can be used across platforms?

How quickly are people shifting from books to e-ink? How are university librarians thinking about the next 10 years?

How will e-books change the nature of teaching, learning and research? How will the use of multimedia can enhance the experience of the print book?

What is the right pricing method for the future forms of books and magazines (printed, iPad/iphone/kindle/nook versions)?

How will digital possibilities change the ways that book artists make books?

What will be the venues for innovative print fiction in a market-driven climate in which an ever-diminishing number of readers purchases books? How do libraries complicate the issue if they are relying more and more on electronic resources?  How does the Internet affect the trajectory of literary history?

Why the pessimism over books as they have largely existed for centuries?—deathbed or immanent change in the description nudges out thinking of the book (which is also more plural than the description suggests…) as not needing to change (or us…).

How are we going to preserve and share books in the future if print gives way to digital?

Where are we headed? Are books to become a dusty collectible, or is print necessary to validate the efforts of knowledge seekers and creators?

Will e-books replace print books eventually?

What is the future of the e-book?

Will there be free repositories of books in whatever format (physical, digital, etc.) preserved for posterity?  Who will be the guardians of our history and our culture, the custodians of civilization, in the future?  Will it be “Free To All?”

How will authors reach  readers and how will readers find books in the evolving landscape of publishing?

Do changes in the material form of the book affect learning?  Who will preserve digital culture?  Who will ensure our existing works of culture are moved into the digital age? If books are digital how do we ensure literacy crosses the digital divide?  How does image inform text and vice versa?

The popular media, format, and distribution channels of future books?
Especially interested in ways of facilitating access and exploring digital (and other) interactions with special collections books and mss. in the future?

How will digital texts interact with printed texts? Printed texts for the pleasure of reading, digital texts for research? Will we see an increase of book art and bibliophile editions?

If libraries are about classification, storage, and access to content, and that content becomes online, how can and should academic, research & public library spaces change?

How will the shift to “modern” forms of the book affect our relationship with more traditional textual forms?

Confirm interdependence of print and screen?

What about paper? When will e-books become independent from a power source?

What will happen to indexing and other aspects of book production?

What media types that wouldn’t resemble books enough as to still be called books might displace the book? I mean, virtual books are still books; for instance they all still have pages.

I don’t have questions but am interested in hearing questions.

What is the future of books on paper?

Will it survive?

When considering the future of the book, where do bookbinders fare?

How can e-books and digital media be extended to incorporate the tactile richness of handmade paper and letterpress printing?

Many questions. Here’s one: Physical books began as precious objects, but the great majority of them eventually became very common. But is it possible or even likely that the physical book is destined to become a species of precious object once again?

Where and how will the kinds of sustained narrative development found in long fictions and complex scholarly thought be preserved/reinvented appropriately?

Will the proliferation of e-books have the opposite effect of regenerating interest in (paper-based) fine press books?

When will paper books disappear for good?

How will education in schools be changed by the digital book?

What about the future of print publications?

What are others imagining future forms of the book to be whether hard copy, electronic, or other?

Where does the line exist between practicality and fine art in the future of the book?

Will access to knowledge actually be limited rather than opened if we go completely over to electronic books rather than print ones? What is the future of the library?

What does the library of the future look like?

How will we produce humanities content in digital form? How will we move humanists into digital publishing?

iBooks/e-books are a sustaining innovation over the traditional print. What will be the disruptive innovation?

Currently using four different forms of “books” in daily life. How many forms will we use simultaneously in the future?

Will devices dictate the future of the book? That is, will what we read on be the most important component (rather than the reader, the writer, etc.) in determining the future of the book? What better devices are on the way?

How new “books” may be experienced; image/text relationships, etc.?

What does the rhetoric of the “digital revolution” seek to obscure about the long-standing tradition of the book?

Do we still value the relatively stable form of knowledge the book represents — or is it the conversation, the process, and the proposition that we care about today?

Can we think of the future of the BOOKS, as in the many forms books can take, as they have in the past? (General) What are margins, and how can we use them creatively in the books of the future? (Particular)

What are the implications of robotic writing for the future of poetry?

Will Amazon eat all players?

What about conversion of textbooks to electronic format?

In what ways are the e-book world collaborating with the gaming and artists’ books world? It seems like a trillion dollar future.

Why are audiobooks seldom included in the book’s future?

What lies behind our era of ‘unbound’ness? Why do our stories need new technological mediums to be told?

What are the implications for Catalogers?  Are readers less interested in actual books?

Electronic publication has broadened writer’s access to both the means of production and dissemination for their texts. Should publishers, editors, agents, and critics others continue to play their traditional roles as cultural curators (and gatekeepers)?

Will the book remain an essentially ad-free medium?

How does the print industry regain momentum?

Why didn’t the book die out long ago?

How to best meld the print book with the eBook for preservation of the scholarly historical record? How to sustain the use of the print book both for its intellectual content and for its physical form as an historical or art object?

Where is the book headed?

How might history and tradition relate to emerging digital forms?

What technological and legal changes need to occur before the on-screen “page” captures images (art and text) with greater typographical and visual representation?

Will scholars who have long prospered using print material be forced to use visually-challenging, tactile-wanting and aesthetically-boring e-books??

Is publishing turning to transmedia to counteract the losses in print fiction?

The codex — what we think of as the “book” today — seems likely to endure for centuries to come as a means of storing and transmitting information.  What I’m interested in as an author is what story-forms are enabled by electronic media — I’ll point to Christine Love’s “don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story” as a story which cannot be told as effectively in any form but the form she gave it.  So, what aren’t we doing yet that we could be?  What stories can we tell electronically that we can’t tell otherwise?

Where do you think it is going? Do you think people will ever want to give up the physicality of the book as an object? Isn’t there room for other avenues of bookmaking, without threatening the book?

Which future?

How can books become multi-modal, combining sensorial and abstract forms of representation?

How might collaboration in authoring/bookmaking come to greater prominence considering the ways in which book arts/artist’s books expand the notion of what a book is, and the ways in which social media encourages communication and exchange, and obliterates geographic and temporal barriers to co-creation?

What about new formats for storytelling?

How responsive will the ‘Future of the Book’ be compared to the ‘Past of the Book’, which has been admittedly rich and successful?

What short-term and long-term business models, particularly models involving sharing e-books and DRM-free (or DRM-easy) e-books are on the horizon?

How will we assure that books don’t just “disappear” (get deleted from e-readers)?

Will paper books become vintage/collectors/luxury items, like LPs? Will e-reader technology keep changing as quickly as other forms of media (VHS to DVD to Blueray, record to tape to CD to mp3…)? How will that change how we read?

What about new reading practices related to new material forms?

What will the book of the future look like?

How do future books relate to the future of museums + archives?

When will libraries become obsolete?

What is it – the future?

How do we imagine the book, as an object or as a site where inquiry happens? How does prioritizing one over the other change how we make new books and preserve or reinvent the idea of the book?

Will sustained argument and narrative matter much in the future?

Will unique artists books be more relevant?

Ah, the many varieties of e-books….

Books are the traditional venue for contributing ideas to the public forum. Digital media favors shorter communications such as blogs and tweets. For expansive, detailed content, do physical books have a future as a preferred format?

I’ve heard that bookstores in Germany are thriving. What are they doing that we are not?

To what extent should readers/participants be able to add to or revise digital content?

What about the intersection of the future of books and higher education – and how it will further change within the next decade?

What is the relationship between communally and informally generated content and concepts of intellectual ownership?

How is  narrative changing (in text and image) and who is in charge?

What is the best working definition of the word “book” as we move forward?

As a printer/publisher part of a virtual artists collective, how can I reconcile beautiful books (and fine craft) with e-books? Without losing sight of the history of books, or encouraging the attitude I’ve seen as a bookseller that the object-book is merely trash.

How will bookstores and bookselling change as the digital revolution proceeds?

How will changes in book technology be reflected in rare books libraries & special collections?

How will new forms of books/media change our way of perceiving literature/content?

Who will give digital books their form? Artists, designers, and craftsmen—or programmers and corporations?

What initiatives are being developed to protect the privacy of readers?

What are we losing about the experience of reading when we move from physical to digital artifacts? What about apps, robots, toys, physical devices that augment the reading experience?

What about the impact of e-books on the definition and future of the book as an artifact?

Is an enhanced e-book (embedded video, audio, etc.) still a book or something different? Will the reader ever come to expect that type of additional content as part of the reading experience?

How soon will ebooks be the majority of the published books?

In view of the increasing ease of self-publishing, what is in the future for traditional publishers?

What is the relationship with book conservation?

Are we romantic enough as a race to hold on to the physical paper book out of pure nostalgia?

Will the  hand-made book increase in popularity? How do artists disseminate their limited editions?

How will that change the kind of book or story that we want to read?

To what extent will books become interactive as print books increasingly give way to eBooks that allow for enhanced audio and visual components? Is an interactive book a positive development?

Curious to thoughts re the birth of a renaissance of fine/craft printing (ala Vale, Dove, Kelmscott, etc). Will the ‘death’ of the ubiquitous (and poorly designed/printed) book reopen the doors for the well-designed ‘object’ of the book…?

Are we currently suffering from a signal to noise problem in artist books?

How can e-books create innovative ways to give form to imaginary realms via audiovisual modes of storytelling?

How will/is the change in format of books/print journalism affect how we learn?

How will the DOJ antitrust suit affect the future of e-book pricing? What’s a practical and effective solution to digital piracy?How will libraries circulate ebooks, and will publishers start to work with them to provide access to all their titles?

How with publishing and distribution models change as self-publishing and e-first publishing gain legitimacy? How will the traditional role of publishers change in this new world? Will “book” mean something new?

Will poetry ever transfer to digital technology?

Is print truly dead?

How does the evolution of books affect scholarship and publication trends?

What’s iOS?

What is the future of libraries?

How long will print books survive?

What are ways that traditional publishing models can transition quickly to digital workflows? How can digital workflows be implemented more quickly?

I’m still learning about the history of the book, so I haven’t gotten far enough to think about the future. What about book arts and bookbinding?

What the collaborative and interactive opportunities will be?

How do libraries prepare for a transition from a tradition paper format to another?

When will scrolls return to common usage?

What about curating and providing access to digital objects? What will the future environments of libraries look like? How will the future of the book affect the artifactual value of the physical object? Does the digital book have value other than informational?

How will close reading be enhanced in the e-world?

For how long will print books survive?

How do you explain that if the book format of document has been around for hundreds years that it is not going to be obsolete any time soon?

Other Electronic Books: Print Disability and Reading Machines

A guest post by Mara Mills, Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU. Mills is currently researching the history of talking books and reading machines.

The demand for “print access” by blind people has transformed the inkprint book. Some scholars today distinguish between e-books and p-books, with the “p” standing for print, yet already by the early twentieth century blind people and blindness researchers had partitioned “the book” and “reading” into an assortment of formats and practices, including inkprint, raised print, braille, musical print, and talking books. In turn, electrical reading machines—which converted text into tones, speech, or vibrations—helped bring about the e-book through their techniques for scanning, document digitization, and optical character recognition (OCR).

The first such reading machine, the Optophone, was designed in London by Edmund Fournier d’Albe in 1913. A “direct translator,” it scanned print and generated a corresponding pattern of tones.  Vladimir Zworykin (now known for his work on television) visited Fournier d’Albe in London in the 19-teens and saw a demonstration of the Optophone. At RCA in the 1940s, he built a reading machine that operated on the same principles, followed by an early OCR device that spelled out words letter by letter using a pre-recorded voice on magnetic tape.  John Linvill began working on an optical-to-tactile converter—the Optacon—in 1963, partly as an aid for his blind daughter.  Linvill soon became chair of the electrical engineering department at Stanford, and the Optacon project became central to early microelectronics research at the university. Linvill and his collaborator, Jim Bliss, believed that a tactile code was easier to learn than an audible one, because the analogy between visible and vibratory print was more direct (both formats being two-dimensional). Extending the technique of character recognition (rather than direct translation), in 1973 Raymond Kurzweil launched the Kurzweil Reading Machine for the Blind, a text-to-speech device with multi-font OCR. As he recalls in The Age of Spiritual Machines, “We subsequently applied the scanning and omni-font OCR to commercial uses such as entering data into data bases and into the emerging word processing computers. New information services, such as Lexis (an on-line legal research service) and Nexis (a news service) were built using the Kurzweil Data Entry Machine to scan and recognize written documents.”

Harvey Lauer, one of the foremost experts on twentieth-century reading machines, was the blind rehabilitation and technology transfer specialist at the Hines VA Hospital for over thirty years. Colleagues Robert Gockman and Stephen Miyagawa have called him “the ‘father’ of modified electronic devices for the blind and the ‘Bionic Man’ of the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center.” Lauer attended the Janesville State School for the Blind, where he studied music and tinkered with electronics and audio components. He earned his B.A. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1956 and his M.S. in Vocational Counseling from Hunter College the following year.  Shortly before his retirement from the VA in 1997, Lauer wrote a speculative paper on the “Reading Machine of the Future.” By that time, personal computers were common and flatbed scanners were becoming affordable for home use. Text-to-speech software was beginning to replace the standalone reading machine. Yet the increasing complexity of graphical user interfaces inhibited blind computer users, and a conservative approach to reading (i.e. tying print to speech) was embedded in commercial OCR software. Lauer advocated a “multi-modal reading aid” with braille, tonal, vibratory, and speech outputs for translating text and graphics. With Lauer’s permission, I’ve excerpted the following selection from his unpublished article.

 

READING MACHINE OF THE FUTURE
BUT THE FUTURE WON’T JUST HAPPEN

Harvey Lauer
September 12, 1994

From 1964 to the present, I have used, tested and taught fourteen reading machines and many more devices for accessing computers.  Working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, formerly the Veterans Administration, I saw much progress and several lessons forgotten.

The system I feel we really need will have a choice of modalities—speech, Braille, large print and dynamic graphic displays.  It will be configurable according to the user’s needs and abilities. It will scan pages into its memory, process them as best it can, and then allow us to read them in our choice of medium.  Automatic sequencing would be our first choice for easily-scanned letters, articles and books.  But it will also let us examine them with a keyboard, a tablet, a mouse or perhaps tools from Virtual Reality. It will offer us any combination of speech, refreshable braille or large print as well as a verbal description of the format or layout.  Because we will be able to use that description to locate what we want to read, it will be easier to use than current OCR machines, but not larger. When we also need to examine shapes, we will switch on tonal and/or vibratory (graphical) outputs.  As I have noted, examining the shape of a character or icon is far easier than reading with such an output.

In short, the system will offer a three-level approach to reading.  The first choice is to have a page or screenful of text recognized and presented either as a stream of data or as data formatted by the machine.  We can now do that with OCR machines.  At the second level, we can choose to have the machine describe items found on pages or screen displays and their locations.  We can have either brief descriptions or descriptions in “excruciating detail.”  We can then choose items by name or characteristics. That won’t always be sufficient, so we will have a third choice.  We can choose to examine portions of the page or individual items found by the machine, using speech, braille characters, a display of tones, an array of vibrators, a graphic braille-dot display or magnified and enhanced images. Once the basic system is developed, it will constitute a “platform” for people like us to test its practical values and for researchers to test new ideas for presenting information to humans.

It’s 1997.  You place a page on your scanner.  It could be a recipe, a page from a textbook or part of a manual.  You direct the machine to scan it into memory.  You suspect that it isn’t straight text, so you don’t first direct the machine to present it in speech or braille.  You request a description of the format and learn that the machine found two columns of text at the top, a table, and a picture with a caption.  It also noted there were some tiny unidentified shapes, possibly fractions.

You then turn to your mouse (or other tracking device) which you move on an X/Y tablet.  (This concept of a tablet was best articulated by Noel Runyan of Personal Data Systems in Sunnyvale, California.) You switch to freehand tracking and examine the rest of the page for gross features, without zooming.  You find the table, plus what appears to be a diagram and some more text.  With the mouse at the top of that text, you switch to assisted tracking.  Now the system either corrects for mistracking or the mouse offers resistance in one or the other direction, depending upon your choices.  As you scan manually, the text is spoken to you.  After reading the block of text, you read the caption and examine the table.  You find that some of the information needs to be read across columns, and some makes sense only when read as columns.  You are thankful that you don’t have an old-fashioned OCR, screen reader and Optacon to tackle this job.

Then you find a longer piece of data you want to copy, so you “block and copy” it to a file.  In examining the diagram, you find tiny print you want to read, but the OCR can’t recognize it, so you zoom in (magnify) and switch to the mode in which shapes can be examined.  Depending on your equipment and your abilities, you can have them presented as vibrating patterns on an Optacon array, as tone patterns, as a graphic, dot image on a rapidly-refreshing array of braille dots, or as a combination of those modalities.  You may or may not have the skill to read in this way; few people make the effort to develop it nowadays.  What you do is examine the characters slowly and trace the lines of drawings in which you are interested.

With the new instrument, we won’t have to give up nearly as often and seek sighted assistance.  Optacon users will no longer have to remove the page and search about with camera in hand as if reading a map through a straw.  Computer users will still have our screen access software.  OCR users will still have their convenient, automatic features.  However, when you use a current OCR machine to scan a page with a complex format, the data is frequently rearranged to the point where it’s unusable.  Such items as titles, captions and dollar amounts are frequently scrambled together.  It makes me feel as if I am eating food that someone else has first chewed. With the proposed system, when its automatic features scramble or mangle our data, we can examine it as I have described.

The exciting point is this:  The proposed integrated system with several optional modules would harness available technology to allow us to apply the wide gamut of human abilities among us to a wide gamut of reading tasks.  In 1980, I presented this idea in a paltry one-page document added to an article about reading machines.  I then called it the Multi-dimensional Page Memory System.  I’ve given it a new name—the Multi-modal Reading Aid.

 

Non-anglophone worlds?

How about including, here, some resources based in France? For example:

* Gallica : ancient texts plus some not-so, manuscripts & incunabula & printed books & other things, all treasures-of-the-BN, and all digital & online now in several controversial and interestingly-European / non-US American ways —
http://gallica.bnf.fr/
http://gallica.bnf.fr/?lang=EN

* BnF / Bibliothèque nationale de France : this is the justifiably-famous old BN / Bibliothèque Nationale itself, radically-recast and not always comfortably, in its brand-new buildings & staffs & attitudes toward new technologies, prime example of a “digital library” —
http://www.bnf.fr
http://www.bnf.fr/en/tools/lsp.site_map.html

* Musée de l’imprimerie, Lyon : these folks discovered the old Renaissance type-fonts, underwater where they’d been dumped into the Sâone river from the print shops along the rue Mercière which created the Incunabula Revolution — the Musée workshops use ancient machinery to teach modern printing and binding, and they know much about mise-en-page in le-digital too — and they’re in the city which gave us Sebastian Gryphe, and Etienne Dolet… that last burned at the stake on the Place Maubert in Paris, for his new-fangled notions, proof that these transition-in-media issues are taken seriously, and can be far more bleeding-edge & risky, than many people realize —
http://www.imprimerie.lyon.fr/
(Their english / l’américain page does not appear to be up, but I’ll be happy to translate…)

* Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon : a leading provincial city-library in France, like many of those one blessed with a large confiscation-révolutionnaire of ancient texts, manuscript & print & other, preserved in the provinces and so mostly saved from marauding Parisian mobs and radical-ideas-in-flux — ideal locale for quietly studying noisy revolutionary texts in their various media transitions —
http://www.bm-lyon.fr/
(Again, happy to translate…)

* La FNAC : where France buys & sells its “books”, nowadays, digital and other — from its origins at the forefront of the modern revolt against the most recent Old Regime in French publishing, and so much-vilified by many — now on the ropes against the digital, and trying desperately to figure out what it all means commercially — France invented the Minitel, long before the “public” Internet, and now everyone in the country has an iPod & iPhone & iPad  & iMac too or is about to get one… iFrance… 🙂 —
http://www4.fnac.com/
(Ditto re. translating…)

The above list represents just the French mainstream, as well: they’ve always had an active media-underground, in addition — the placards, colporteurs, feuilletonières, cat-massacre people, avant-gardes of various types and eras…

There are plenty of experimental sites among the French nowadays, too: walking the lisière, between print media & digital — which appears to interest the conference and the others mentioned on the website.

There is really interesting work going on everywhere, in fact, internationally now, in online digital information — also some very interesting questions about how all this will or won’t scale-up, to international applications… including multilingual access but not just… social & political & economic & cultural questions as well… Kerala is not like Kansas, not at all… Information “wants to be free”, internationally too, and in languages other than english & l’américain — and everyone, Out There as well, still loves “books”.

So, the above are a few France-based suggestions for your very interesting site, and for your interesting ideas about maybe “rebalancing” the new & old media instead of “transitioning” them.

 

Jack Kessler
www.fyifrance.com

p.s. A general note & disclaimer about translation, tho: native-speakers rule!, in this… Pace fabulous exceptions such as Arthur Waley and W.S. Merwin, most human language translation doesn’t really work. Translation is an art, not a science: Waley’s is the most famous example, his “Madly Singing In The Mountains” being a phrase only a Bloomsbury gentleman like him ever would utter, never the 9th c. Chinese poet from whom Waley translated it, altho it fits the old Chinese poet perfectly.

So use GoogleTranslate, yes: but that is often more transliteration than it is translation — much as GoogleSearch is “data” search & retrieval but not yet really  “information” search & retrieval, as no less than Larry Page has told his troops.

The sites overseas offer English Versions, but these brave attempts usually are truncated, filled with howlers, and usually they are superficial dead-ends leading to sites filled from level II on down with strange-looking foreign stuff. When you run into that, however, think of all the Mongolians, Ethiopians, Burmese and residents of Bergerac who don’t even find level I homepages in their languages on our anglophone sites… much less instruction manuals… imagine troubleshooting using only a manual printed in Mongolian…

Best thing to do, then, is to partner with a foreign language native-speaker, online — easy enough to locate one, nowadays — you write to her/him in English, s/he writes to you in French — you’ll miss lots of nuances if you don’t, and French is nothing if not a language of nuance… ditto Chinese & Tamil & most…

 

Christian Bök’s Bibliomechanics

We are grateful to Christian Bök for contributing the first guest post to the Unbound blog. We will be featuring another post on his “Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit” next week!

Bibliomechanics is “bookish artware,” consisting of 27 Rubik’s cubes, stacked together into a block (3 x 3 x 3) so as to create the kind of pataphysical writing-machine described by Jonathan Swift in The Voyage to Laputa—”a project for improving speculative knowledge by […] mechanical operations” so that, by such a “contrivance[,] the most ignorant person […] may write books […] without the least assistance from genius or study.” Every facet of these cubes displays a white word printed in Futura on a black label so that, when properly stacked together, the cubes create 18 separate surfaces (6 exterior, 12 interior), each one of which becomes a page that displays a readable sentence (81 words long). Each sentence paraphrases a poetic theory about the machinic function of language itself. The reader can, of course, scramble each cube so as to create an alternative permutation, generating a new text from the vocabulary of the old text.

 

Bibliomechanics is a kind of 3D-version of Cents mille milliards de poèmes by Raymond Queneau, whose flipbook consists of 10 sonnets, in which corresponding lines can replace each other without altering the rhyme scheme or the lyric sense of any sonnet, thus permitting 10 trillion possible variants. An insomniac, reading one poem per second nonstop, requires about 317,000 years to complete such a work. A single Rubik’s cube, however, provides more than 4.3 x 1019 different permutations (albeit many nonsensical), and when we take into account all 27 cubes, this number increases by a factor of at least 27! x 627. An immortal, reading one page per second nonstop, might begin this book at the Big Bang, yet never hope to finish the text before the expiry of the universe itself. My book is perhaps more like a gizmo than a codex; however, the work does suggest that, no matter what its form, a book can still become a folding rhizome of unlimited dimension.

–Christian Bök

 

from BIBLIOMECHANICS

 

Top Facets

THE STRANGERS WHO VISIT UTOPIA MIGHT FIND THERE THIS

COMPLEX DEVICE MADE FROM A CARVED FRAME OF WOODEN

CUBES THAT SWIVEL ON WIRE AXLES, ITS NUMEROUS FACETS

COVERED BY SQUARE PIECES OF PAPER WITH ALL THE

POETIC WORDS OF THE LANGUAGE WRITTEN UPON THEM IN

ALL THEIR MOODS, TENSES, AND CASES, BUT WITHOUT ANY

ORDER, SO THAT ANYONE TURNING THE HANDLES ON THE

EDGE OF THE FRAME MIGHT ALTER THE OLD SEQUENCE

OF RECORDED THOUGHT AND THUS CREATE A NEW SENTENCE

 

Front Facets

THE CHINESE PUZZLE, A SUBLIME DEVICE BUILT BY A

MASTER CRAFTSMAN, POSES A RIDDLE BECAUSE EVERY PERSON BELIEVES

THAT THE BOX MUST CONTAIN WONDERS, BUT THERE APPEARS

TO BE NO WAY INTO IT, NO CLUE ON

ANY OF ITS SIX BLACK, LACQUERED FACES AS TO

THE LOCATION OF THE PRESSURE POINTS THAT CAN DISENGAGE

ONE PIECE OF THIS JIGSAW FROM ANOTHER, AND ONLY

AFTER HOURS OF TRIAL AND ERROR DO CHANCE MANOEUVRES

MEET WITH SUCCESS, AN ALMOST SILENT CLICK, THEN VICTORY