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Tag Archives: ebooks

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.

Opinion: At least 20% of students’ readings should come from material which has been chosen by the students themselves.

Why did I choose 20% as the benchmark? I was partly inspired by Google’s now-famous employee policy, called “Innovation Time Off, where Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them.” This policy was responsible for staple Google products such as Gmail, Google News, and no doubt countless Android applications. When we pursue interests we’re innately interested in, we’re much more likely to gain something from the experience.

When students read what they want to read, they are more engaged in the material and chances are that if something interests them, they’re more like to put effort into learning about that topic, designing projects which reflect that learning, and without even realizing it, they’ll be developing related skills along the way.

And I’m not just talking about K-12 education. When you’re taking classes at a university and your professor gives you a list of assigned readings, just the fact that they’re assigned makes them unbearably burdensome to read sometimes. What if for some proportion of the assignments, we let students choose what they wanted to read? Professors could assign a few things to read, perhaps some online articles which can be commented on in a collaborative wiki format (with highlighting and digital sticky notes to boot!), and then let the remaining readings come from whatever the students read on their own time, for pleasure. Students could be encouraged to then apply what they were reading to the assigned readings, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, and evaluating at a level of engagement they don’t often reach when they’re simply forced to read something.

Reading for Pleasure

Do people even read for pleasure anymore? I’ve noticed in the past year of riding the bus in Vancouver, I’ve seen books slowly being replaced by smartphones, iPods, tablets, and eReaders. Many would argue that they’re still reading – the medium has just changed. And while I can certainly agree with this to some degree, I also agree with the multitude of writers who say that we’re losing something in our transition to the digital age. When we change the form of reading – we change the meaning of the words. It only seems natural that our books will become shorter, shallower, and more distracting – er, interactive. eBooks will have animations, links, and perhaps even advertisements. What does this mean for the future of class readings?

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m going to miss the dog-eared pages, the pencil marks and notes in the margins, and the serendipitous moments provided by used book stores. If Amazon, Google, or Sony can replicate those three things, perhaps I won’t have as hard of a time transitioning to eBooks.

[This last paragraph makes me feel like my grandma when she talks about growing up in the golden age of radio, before the advent of TV.]