On & off line publishing – ideas on the reading/use (2)

January 30th, 2007 Comments Off on On & off line publishing – ideas on the reading/use (2)

organised by De Balie in Amsterdam on 19-1-07

Why print or not print in times of online media? How does the grey zone in between ‘on’ & ‘off’ publishing look like? How does it change publishing processes? How does the human race react upon the variety of formats and possibilities?

These are the questions that got some interesting replies during the presentations at De Balie. In the previous post I reformulated the ideas on the existing infrastructure and the POD-services (print on demand). Here I would like to present the reader’s point of view of Arie Altena (media theorist, writer, lecturer and researcher at Jan van Eyck Academy).

Arie Altena’s statement is clear: we – West-Europeans – live in a world where on line media is becoming more important than print media. In terms of dealing with information we spend much more time behind a computer. But also reading print is connected to the digital environment. While you are reading you are checking details on the internet, you write down sentences to remember using the machine. As much as reading a book is a very pleasant activity, it would be nice to have a digital copy. Altena illustrated this through his reading experience of Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, Against the day. Together with the book appeared the Pinchon wiki, with more than 600 pages of very good references http://pynchonwiki.com/ It would have been good to reflect on ideas being able to copy-paste sentences out of the novel for example. In the medical world for instance, all literature is digital. When it comes to literature the print industry is still very strong. Are we paying for the object and/or for the content?

Books are no longer a reference for knowledge as they have been from 1400 till 1999 (Blanchot). Altena does not longer identify the book to a printed book but likes the definition of ‘a book as a collection of writings’ (formulated by Geert Lernout, Joyce-specialist at UIA). We are living in a transition world. The medium is connected to the transformations in society. Printed rules become digital rules. Altena likes to compare these changes with the transformations in the 18th century. Because of industrial processes, printing became cheaper and made large distribution possible. The phenomenon of the daily newspaper was introduced and created the apparition of a new public space. For Altena old technologies do not disappear, they change function. What you ‘need’ to know, is going digital; what is ‘nice’ to know, can also go on print. Books are becoming luxury items. They are not cheap, not handy and not adapted to the way knowledge is distributed. If you compare it to the flux of information in the world of blogging where the information goes from hand to hand, books are much slower. You make a book for a special occasion.

Altena described the experiment of Ubiscribe (http://www.ubiscribe.net), a publishing project at the Van Eyck Academy that was part of a larger research on the changes of writing and publishing. They set up a wiki – which is still online – published the content in the wiki and generated a book out of this wiki. The whole process took four days. Unfortunately the experiment did not work for the designing of the book. They had to migrate all content to a private owned software program and used Skype for the final editing of the book. They printed 50 copies using POD. The idea is to have several printruns where they would go back to the wiki each time, change the content and bring out a book that looks the same, but only from the outside. Why do you want to print this content if everything is online?

When you try it out as I did, having received a copy of the book after having gone through the wiki, you live the differences. It is a very confronting experience. When reading the book I remembered parts of the articles I had read online. The remembrance was vague, more like remembering a dream; or even worse realizing I hardly remembered. It made me aware of the quick speed and superficial reading that goes with flashing through the site trying to get a clue of what it is all about. While using the book means following a lineair order, which gives me as a reader a possible method of reading and more important, a quick overview of the content. I wonder whether this comfort has to do with the fact my primary setting for learning has been instored by the bookformat. It might be different for future generations who grow up with the website or game setting as reading and learning tool. Apart of the lineair order there is also the pleasure of the graphic design (which is also very much present in the Mute print magazine). Clear, readable, organising, surprising design is as much part of the reading experience as the content.

Altena calls the series of book features – lineair order and graphic design – a luxury. We all grew up in a book culture and have still warm feeling for it. The image of a grandmother reading a book next to her granddaughter who is reading on her mobile is no longer a fantasy.

As critic as Altena is on the medium of the book, he believes the book will survive. He defends this idea using two valuable criteria: ‘remembrance’ and ‘time-regimes’. Firstly, the physicality of the book is about ‘remembering‘. As a reader you want to be remembered of a certain collection of reading experiences. For Altena, books he wants to remember at all times can be a collection of words put together by an author with a beginning and an end; or it can be a collection of essays. This last type of collection is different to reading online because of the editorial view that combines the essays.

Altena mentioned here being a reader of Yang, a leading literary magazine in Flanders. Yang organizes the content of their magazine around ‘central issues/dossiers’. Therefore they reproduce the print content online without fragmenting it into a database system (http://www.yangtijdschrift.be).

Secondly, on & off publishing has to be considered in a perspective of different time-regimes. News that has a time-regime of one day, can be found online. The newspaper you throw away the next day will become a luxury item. Indeed, you don’t want to keep the pictures of a storm, the elections or an accident if you’re not directly involved. There are collections of content that you want to keep for a longer time, let’s say a month or two. Mostly these are editor’s selections. They can be printed using your pdf-files and your own printer or using POD-services. And their is content you want to keep for the rest of your life. Those are books. You want to have them with you, you are prepared to put them into boxes when you move.

This seems a very touching idea to me. As much as I would like to live lightly and be able to use a mobile library device, I suspect that there are books I will be never be able to throw out.




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