Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tipping Point

I wasn't going to post this, because it's far too Nathan Barley even for me, but then I remembered that the whole point of this blog was meant to be to document how technology is changing the way we - and more specifically, I - live. So, apologies in advance for the gratuitous references to postmodernism, Baudrillard etc. I'll try not to do it too often...

In the last few days, I've discovered that I can't read a book without falling asleep. I'm trying to read for my dissertation, but I can't seem to stay awake for more than ten pages.

I could attribute this to several things: I've been staying up too late watching the GW repeats; I read while lying on the...mmm...really comfy sofa; I'm too short-sighted to read the words comfortably; I'm lazy; I'm not committed enough, and so on.

But I don't think it's any of those things. I think the way I want to receive information has changed so much that the book has more or less become obsolete.

If I'm reading Sherry Turkle talking about how postmodern culture is a culture of simulation, I don't want to follow a reference number to the back of a glued-together pile of paper to discover that she's making a reference to Baudrillard. No, dammit, I want a shiny hyperlink to Baudrillard right there on the page. Like that one.

Yes, I want my books thin, and back-lit, with hyperlinks. I want to skip back and forth between texts, and copy and paste stuff into Word as I please.

Suddenly, the books on my shelves look all musty and noxious, as if they might be harbouring disease-carrying spores. Some sort of old-style Victorian disease, probably. Like typhoid. Or whooping cough. I don't trust them.

This is no good. I'm never going to finish this degree.

Ironically, the book I'm currently not reading because I keep falling asleep is all about how reliant we've become on computers. So I'm not going to be able to finish (read: start) my dissertation about how reliant we've become on computers, because I can't read a book about how reliant we've become on computers.

Funny new world, as Baudrillard might have said.

pretentious tag alert: | |


Interpreter Pavlov said...

Mmm . . . as one with several books to my credit - I mean with my name on the front - including a novel which has taken me about ten years, on and off, to write, this isn't the most encouraging post I've ever read! Think content, bugger the technology, the medium is by no means the message: technology is to communication as spoon is to custard. Homer (something tells me he's not the subject of your dissertation and that you're not going to write it in hexameters, although a highly respected form at one time for the deepest ontological utterances, cf. Lucretius) for instance enthrals no less today than he did the best part of 3000 years ago, and the fascination he continues to exercise owes equally, neither more nor less, to song, chant, recitation, printing, ability to read, film, theatre or possibly even translation: it's what he has to say that matters.

I don't think you can be reading the right books. I bet you didn't fall asleep on the sofa reading the Favourite Books listed on your profile. There's always a post-post-modernism over the hill, which seems really depressing until you get there and discover that you've been there before, and that your granny - not yours, necessarily, but figuratively - used to sunbathe there.

patroclus said...

I hope you're right, IP. I wasn't really claiming that print is dead - that point was made 22 years ago, and much more eloquently, by leading postmodernist Dr Egon Spengler. I was just recording an observation in the manner of my otherworld namesake, Antoine Roquentin...no, this isn't getting any less pretentious.

It's a very interesting book I'm reading but still, zzzz....

Dave again said...

I was going to say just what IP said.

In my own style, of course.

Tim Footman said...

I know exactly what you mean about hyperlinks having spoiled us. From the writer's perspective, they're also seductively easy to use. It's so much more straightforward to bung in a href (as I do for my online stuff), than to cobble together a proper page reference, to strict MLA-style standards (as I try to do for my dead-tree writing).

One compromise, of course, is footnotes (as opposed to endnotes, which are a real pain in the arse). Check out what Paul Morley did in Words and Music; his footnotes have footnotes. I suspect that to experience an HTML version of that would be like reading an Escher painting.

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Sorry. A bit sharp. I'll work at the eloquence. Happy Wednesday.

cello said...

Interesting. Custard is indeed still custard when eaten with a fork but it rather takes the joy out of the experience.

I used to poo-poo the notion that printed paper would one day be obsolete but the prospect of packing six heavy tomes for my imminent holiday, when I'd prefer to take a thin, back-lit digital appliance instead, is rather depressing. Mind you, it would have to be able to survive having sun-tan lotion smeared across it, ice-cream dropped on it and sand rubbed into it. But I look forward to the day when I can download IP's books from a beach in Barbados.

Dave again said...

I must say I agree with Tim. When the biography I wrote was published I insisited that it had footnotes, rather than endnotes, as I like to see the point there and then, not go searching for it.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Funny, I would rather read something on actual paper any day. It's easier on the eye but I also find it easier to concentrate. In online reading, I jump around like an ADD kitten, skimming and clicking and generally grumping "enterTAIN me already..." (I'm not very grown-up online, at all.) And this surfing habit has become so ingrained, I can't seem to focus on anything. If there is something serious I have to read, I am much more comfortable settling down on a couch. With a good oldfashioned book. So much better.

frangelita said...

Scroobious has a good point about attention spans. If you get out a 'real' book, on paper, you have put in effort and usually money and deliberately selected it so are more likely to knuckle down.
Online, there are so many distractions something has to really grab the attention to hold you.

Spinsterella said...

What Scroobious said.

Books are the best for proper reading.

Computers are best for fannying around, jumping from link to link, stalking ex-boyfriends and work avoidance.

There's no way I'd just lie on the sofa for a couple of hours in the afternoon reading a book, but I seem to have done frig all actual work since about lunchtime.

Oh dear.

First Nations said...

howdy! been lurking *waves*
wanted to say i got a lot out of your post on 'blog how to'. i started using paragraphs! you are totally right!

completely disagree w/ you about books being obsolete (try taking your pc into the crapper with you sometime-or not)and applaud you for having written something worth disagreeing with. don't hurt me.

*dissolves into shadows*

Arabella said...

Having spent yesterday lifting and hauling enormous leather bound copies of 19th century newspapers up and down stairs, I could tell you lots about "disease-carrying spores". By lunch time I would have given away a Steinbeck first edition for half an hour on a computer. I work in the only book shop in SF without a pc, which is why I don't have time for a blog of my very own. First thing I do when I get home? Plug in you lot.

patroclus said...

Hi there FN, and welcome! I've been enjoying your comments all over this little corner of blogworld, so it's good to see you!

I'm pretty sure books aren't dead yet - they just no longer seem to be the most effective medium when you're trying to study a lot of stuff. It's more likely that I'm just lazy, though :-)

Does your bookshop have coffee, Arabella? I would have thought that's as least as important as a PC. Almost.

patroclus said...

Oh and way back there, Interpreter Pavlov said:

>>I'll work at the eloquence<<

I wasn't casting aspersions on your eloquence, I meant mine! Sorry about that.

Arabella said...

No...I hang up one of those annoying signs: "I'll be right back!" and leg it down the road to the local grindery. Good way to disperse the spores.

patroclus said...

Do you have to plot your route to the coffee place so as to avoid Devendra Banhart? Like you have to do in Primrose Hill with Jude Law.

I'll shut up now, and go and see Sigur Ros, or something.

Arabella said...

I didn't know Jude Law was spoiling Primrose hill for everyone else. That is unfortunate. Nicholas Cage is a bit like that in North Beach. Can't enjoy a cocktail at Tosca without his putting himself about. Shameless really.
I have perfected Davendra avoidance during the day by alternating sidewalks to and from the coffee shop.

albert said...

Computers: fabulous for research. If I had to use the library instead of Google, I literally wouldn't be able to pay my rent. As it is, I can access a history of the Gregorian calendar in a few seconds, scan through for the salient points, and have my one paragraph summary done in a matter of minutes, and since I get paid per piece of work, not by time spent, I'm in the money! Thanks Google!

Computers: shit for reading novels. I have read one and a half books online. The first was only available online and was mercifully short, the second I gave up on cos it was too finicky having to scroll down all the time and hold the laptop close enough to my face.

Long live computers! Long live books!

Ceridwen Devi said...

All Leighton's arty friends in Amsterdam are oh so post modern. The media and the message are all one soup now as the new vogue for trivia in the Gruaniad shows. We shall all be Karen soon. However there are some like your good self who still manage to extract some gold from the dross by means of the alchemy of the meme. Suggest you read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond.