Skip navigation

Tag Archives: books

The book's cover (left), and two pages expressing the idea that "We look at the present through a rear-view mirror."

In the past month, I’ve stumbled across a couple of great finds at Pulp Fiction books on Main Street. First, I found Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (1967), which is the more accessible follow-up to his landmark book, 1964’s Understanding Media. The Medium is the Massage is unique in that there is very little text in comparison to graphics.It was co-created with graphic designer Quentin Fiore, and it’s a pleasure to hold in your hands and flip through the pages. It dawned on me that this book simply could not work as an e-book, and that the physical nature of the pages was every bit as important as the text and graphics scattered throughout.

A couple of weeks later I found Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada 2, which, like McLuhan’s Massage, is dominated by graphics rather than text.

The cover and a few pages of Coupland's Souvenir of Canada 2.

I’d estimate that both books’ pages are comprised of about 20% text, and 80% graphics or white space. Coupland’s collection of Canadian artifacts is humorous, simple, and understated. It’s the kind of book you leave on your coffee table, to have your friends and family mull over the images of Nanaimo Bars, hockey sticks, and a hunter’s workbench.

If we all shift to reading e-books, will anyone leave books on their coffee tables anymore? The book’s charm lies partly in its physical nature, and its mostly white cover with the Canadian goose begs for it to be picked up and skimmed through. Can you skim through an e-book? Could this book even exist as an e-book? Would anyone want to publish it? Would anyone want to read it?

Perhaps authors and publishers are well on their way to figuring out how to make unique graphic-heavy books come to life electronically. The next generation of tablets looks promising, and I’ve seen children’s picture books look incredible on an iPad, complete with crisp graphics and even animations. Who knows what the future of reading looks like? History has shown us that media is full of surprises.

Sure, we’re getting great new mediums to tell stories, but a part of me is wondering what we’re giving up in the process. Neil Postman, a friend and advocate of Marshall McLuhan, built upon many of McLuhan’s ideas in his countless books, essays, and lectures. He noted that when new mediums take over, “the result is not the old culture plus the new medium, but a new culture altogether.” What is our new culture of reading going to look like? Are books still extensions of the eye, something more, or something less?


Four consecutive pages from McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage.

I’ve been working my way through a list of books Maria Popova posted last month: seven must-read books on the future of the internet. Since reading Nick Carr’s The Shallows a few months ago, I’ve been extremely aware of the time I spend on the internet, and really try to think about how I use it. Carr’s book actually made me take a step back, use my computer a bit less (for a week or two), and wonder if Nick Carr is right, that maybe the internets are making us stupid. The internet has certainly changed the way I function on a day-to-day basis, as I find myself increasingly attached to both my laptop and Android smartphone.

The Battle: Internet vs Book

I sometimes feel like this guy, with a book replacing the typewriter.

From approximately age seven until eighteen, I had a pretty standard routine before I went to bed. I would lay in bed and read a book until I felt tired, often spending hours tearing through books, staying up until 3 in the morning (on a school night too, nonetheless) to finish whatever I was reading at the time.

Then in 2003, I went to university, and by necessity (the room was tiny) had a computer beside my bed in my dorm room. Ever since, there’s been an increasing amount of nights in which I grapple with the choice of reading a book until I fall asleep, or turning on my computer (or more recently, using my smartphone) to browse the internet. More often, I turn to the computer rather than the book, and I realize that I’m not alone. Other people are going through the same thing, and they’re writing books about it. Reading thought-provoking books (such as those found on Popova’s list) about the internet’s effects has made me extremely self-aware of the changes happening in our world. I have been trying to figure out just what it is that makes me turn to my laptop or smartphone instead of a book. Perhaps it’s fitting that I am coming to a better understanding of why this is… by reading books.

On a sidenote, speaking of smartphones, this month will mark my one-year anniversary of owning a smartphone, Google’s flagship Android phone, the Nexus One. Just eighteen months ago, I was one of those people who said, “I don’t need the internet on my phone! I’m distracted by the net at home enough as it is.” But once you’ve lived with a smartphone, and all the conveniences an instant connection to the internet offers, it’s hard to go back. My phone functions as a newspaper, the yellow pages, an e-reader, a map of the world, a GPS system, a camera, an mp3 player, a restaurant guide, and a connection to social circles through text messages, Facebook, and Twitter. E-mail and Facebook messages are becoming instantaneous, with avid smartphone users expecting a reply within a few hours. What will our world be like in twenty, thirty, or forty years? Will we even read books anymore?

Typing this out is making me realize that I should finish up this post and get back to reading. Next up on the list for me is Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, which after a few chapters, is strengthening my belief that this is a profound shift we’re experiencing as a society, as we move further into the digital age.