E-Reading

“E-Reading Isn’t Reading”: A GIF Response

Slate has published an article called “Out of Touch: E-Reading Isn’t Reading,” which was actually an excerpt from Andrew Piper’s book, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. The article takes the physical book fetish vs. e-reader debate into a new level of absurdity, pulling in St. Augustine and Aristotle to defend the author’s personal preferences about how he ingests books. Since I’ve already used words to express how ridiculous the idea that e-books aren’t “real” is, I’ve decided to come at my response to this article in a different way: with funny pictures.

“In aligning the practice of book reading with that of personal conversion, Augustine established a paradigm of reading that would far exceed its theological framework, one that would go on to become a foundation of Western humanistic learning for the next 1,500 years. It was above all else the graspability of the book, its being “at hand,” that allowed it to play such a pivotal role in shaping one’s life…The book’s graspability, in a material as well as a spiritual sense, is what endowed it with such immense power to radically alter our lives. In taking hold of the book, according to Augustine, we are taken hold of by books.”

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And all the Christians who converted via scrolls or the verbal words of, say, Paul– they take hold of NADA.

“If books are essentially vertebral, contributing to our sense of human uniqueness that depends upon bodily uprightness, digital texts are more like invertebrates, subject to the laws of horizontal gene transfer and nonlocal regeneration.”

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“Aristotle regarded touch as the most elementary sense…Touch is the most self-reflexive of senses, an insight affirmed by the German researcher David Katz, who established the field of touch studies in the early 20th century based on his work with World War I amputees. Through the feeling of touch, we learn to feel ourselves. Touch is a form of redundancy, enfolding more sensory information into what we see and therefore what we read. It makes the words on the page richer in meaning and more multidimensional. It gives words a geometry.”

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“The book’s handiness is recycled on the screen, only now the circuit that once enclosed us within a larger sense of self and place—that brought us into contact with God, as it did for Augustine—has become purely solipsistic: we see ourselves collecting words with our hands, as we become the new gods. But the words of Text Rain can never truly be grasped by our hands. They are like Platonic forms. They remind us how fragile our hold over words is, that we are only ever godlike.”

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Last I checked, the definition of “word” didn’t involve the mechanism that makes the word.

“For Augustine, the book’s closedness—that it could be grasped as a totality—was integral to its success in generating transformative reading experiences. Its closedness was the condition of the reader’s conversion. Digital texts, by contrast, are radically open in their networked form. They are marked by a very weak sense of closure.”

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(There are actually more steps to getting an ebook and opening it than there are to opening a physical book. So don’t ebooks actually have a STRONGER sense of closure?)

“We cannot see, let alone touch, the source of the screen’s letters, the electromagnetically charged “hard drive,” without destroying it. Unlike books, we cannot feel the impressions of the digital. The touch of the page brings us into the world, while the screen keeps us out.”

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“Instead of pressing to turn the page, we now swipe…The more my body does, however, the less my mind does. Interactivity is a constraint, not a freedom. Swiping has the effect of making everything on the page cognitively lighter, less resistant.”

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I also can’t walk and think at the same time.

“With my e-book, I no longer pause over the slight caress of the almost turned page—a rapture of anticipation—I just whisk away. Our hands become brooms, sweeping away the alphabetic dust before us.”

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“As I begin to read, the kids begin to lean into me. Our bodies assume positions of rest, the book our shared column of support. No matter what advertisers say, this could never be true of the acrobatic screen.”

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“Faust reminds us of the way books are totems against ceaseless activity, tools for securing the somatic calm that is the beginning of all careful but also visionary thought. If we believe in the value of rest, and the kind of conversional thinking that it makes possible, then we will want to preserve books and their spaces of readerly rest.”

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