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Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a…
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Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World

by Naomi S. Baron

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Questa volta ho deciso di scrivere qualcosa dal punto di vista digitale di questo mio spazio chiamato blog. Fare dell'auto-scrittura, insomma.

Sono quasi dieci anni ormai che ho aperto questo spazio. L'occasione me la offre la lettura del libro qui a fianco, in formato eBook, ovviamente. Mi sto avviando ai mille post e qualcuno mi ha chiesto ragione del nome che ho dato al blog.

Trae origine dal titolo di un libro, (questo cartaceo! ma reperibile gratis in Rete) che ho scritto su un luogo della mia memoria personale e familiare, un piccolo villaggio in Costa d'Amalfi.

Il libro doveva servire a raccogliere fondi per propiziare il restauro di una chiesetta risalente al mille cinquecento. Intorno a questo luogo ho ricostruito tutto un mondo scomparso, cercando di salvare le speranze di un presente quanto mai liquido e fuggitivo e costruire un futuro migliore per chi vive tra quelle valli e quei monti.

Con il passare degli anni e con la continua alimentazione di scrittura che faccio a questo spazio, mi accorgo che il blog è diventato una sorta di osservatorio personale del mondo, o almeno di quella parte del mondo e della vita che trascorro leggendo il presente, ripensando al passato ipotizzando il futuro. Proponimento ambizioso direte voi. Forse lo è, ma è nell'animo e nella mente di chiunque "lasciare una traccia", una volta arrivati, come si suol dire "ad una certa età".

Il mio punto di riferimento fisso, la stazione di partenza per questa osservazione sono sempre i libri, quelli cartacei. In origine il blog era intitolato alla "bibliomania". La frase riassuntiva era questa: "Si nasce lettori, ci si crede scrittori, si diventa bibliofili, si finisce bibliomani". Una sorta di evoluzione che porta ad una "catastrofe" finale: la mania dei libri. Sempre quelli cartacei. Eredità paterna e familiare.

Da figlio di tipografo post-gutenberghiano, sono arrivato alla Rete la quale, nella sua infinità sembra essere in grado di soddisfare tutti i bisogni e le esigenze richieste dal mondo della comunicazione contemporanea. Una occasione mai avuta prima dall'umanità. Con il passare del tempo si è venuta così a definire meglio la mia passione per la esplorazione culturale, specialmente dopo di avere abbandonato l'insegnamento attivo.

Ho avuto in questo modo la possibilità di riciclare tutto quello che credevo di sapere e cominciare a vedere il mondo con un occhio diverso da come il mio sofferto percorso di formazione mi aveva abituato a vedere. Ed è di questo che voglio parlare così come lo deduco dalla rilettura di tutti questi post scritti nel corso di più di un decennio. Mi rendo conto così che in questi ultimi venti anni è avvenuta una vera e propria rivoluzione di cui molti continuano a non rendersene conto.

Nel quindicesimo secolo Gutenberg diede il via ad una nuova "tecnologia", Iniziò la prima vera rivoluzione della comunicazione stampando il primo libro di carta. Non fu cosa da poco se si pensa che si trattava di organizzare il pensiero umano in maniera diversa da come si era sempre fatto prima con la scrittura a mano. In breve tempo i libri divennero milioni. Oggi non si contano più. Riusciamo ad immaginare l'impatto che ebbe tutto questo sulla comprensione del mondo? Una stessa, identica rivoluzione sta avendo luogo sotto i nostri occhi oggi con lo sviluppo dei nuovi metodi per la diffusione, la conservazione e l'uso della moderna comunicazione.

Una seconda rivoluzione, quella digitale, che ci tocca tutti, non solo da vicino ma addirittura da "dentro". La parola parlata, che diventò prima scrittura manuale e poi a stampa, oggi appare sullo schermo. La stampa a caratteri mobili diede ai testi una stabilità ed una fissità che dava solidità ai contenuti pensati, comunicati e stampati dall'autore e trasmessi al lettore. Può dirsi la stessa cosa oggi con la parola sullo schermo, la parola digitale? No, la parola stampata e la parola digitale sono due manifestazioni comunicative del tutto diverse. Me ne rendo conto quando faccio scorrere il mouse sulla pagina del mio pc, tablet o smartphone e rileggo quello che ho scritto nel corso del tempo.

Come nella rete di un ragno passo da un articolo all'altro, facendomi guidare dai "tag" e dai "link" che ho usato nella stesura dei testi. Questa azione mi permette di fare "uscite laterali" al testo, operare connessioni, scoprire punti di vista imprevisti allora, ma visibili ora, riconsiderare quello che ho scritto, rivalutarlo, correggerlo o addirittura rinnegarlo, magari dandomi lo spunto per la stesura di un nuovo post, con una diversa considerazione del punto trattato. Insomma quel testo è "liquido", come tale mobile, plasmabile, trasformabile.

Potrei fare la stessa cosa se avessi tra le mani il testo a stampa? Certamente no. Potrei scaricarlo, inviarlo a qualcuno e farglielo leggere in tempo reale? Potrei avere un riscontro, una verifica esterna, un approfondimento immediato e in tempo reale da altri? Ecco, le risposte a questi interrogativi fanno la differenza tra scrivere e leggere in cartaceo e in digitale. Avremo modo di parlarne nei prossimi post sempre su questo blog. https://goo.gl/T8UWNv ( )
  AntonioGallo | Nov 2, 2017 |
"I will argue that digital reading is find for many short pieces or for light content we don't intend to analyze or reread. However, if eReading is less well suited for many longer works or even for short ones requiring serious thought, what happens to reading if we shift from print to screens?"

Baron builds her case with original survey data as well a thorough consideration of the relevant literature. To wit: despite the popular mythology that digital texts will be a boon to students, in fact they prefer paper. Research shows that reading in print increases memory and understanding, and encourages the consideration of larger arguments rather than the dredging for isolated information.

According to her analysis, "the kinds of reading that digital devices generally discourage:

* Reading longer texts
* Rereading
* Deep reading
* Memory of what you have read (which is often aided by handwritten annotation)
* Individual (rather than primarily social) encounters with books
* Stumble-upon possibilities
* Strong emotional involvement"

A timely and cautionary lesson for these changing times. ( )
  dono421846 | Apr 16, 2016 |
Digital reading, via such electronic reading devices as the Nook, the Kindle, and the recently departed Sony Reader, has been around long enough now that its side-effects are starting to be measured and discussed. The root question regarding digital reading explored by Naomi S. Baron in Words Onscreen is one of whether or not “digital reading is reshaping our very understanding of what it means to read.” Readers of Words Onscreen, if they had not already reached that conclusion before beginning the book, are likely to come away from a reading of it with a resounding “yes” in answer to the author’s question.

Few would argue that reading a book on a Kindle provides the same experience as reading that same book in its physical form. Each format has its own set of distinct characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages and, largely depending on personal preferences, each format attracts strong advocates – and equally strong critics. Naomi Baron, by exploring those advantages, disadvantages, and related characteristics in detail, explains why that is and why it is unlikely to change. If not always surprising, what Baron learns in her study of digital reading (and digital readers) is always thought provoking enough to steer the reader toward self-examination of his own feelings about the electronic reading process and environment.

Baron begins with the premise that digital reading is suitable for shorter pieces of light content, the kind of thing the reader neither intends to analyze nor to reread. At the same time, she states that digital reading is not at all suited for reading most long works or works of any length that require “serious thought” on the part of the reader. Does this mean that, as the prevalence of digital reading continues to increase, certain types of reading will be abandoned by even the most serious of readers? Baron, in her chapter detailing the ever-increasing adoption of digital textbooks by American colleges, argues that this might just be the case. And that shift in focus and ability to deeply study a text, she argues, will have detrimental effects on all of our futures.

Words Onscreen explores these and many other issues related to America, Canada, and Britain’s eager (although the pace has slowed in recent months) adoption of digital reading. Interestingly, for a variety of reasons, some of which are financial and some cultural, the rest of the world has not moved toward digital reading nearly as enthusiastically as have these three countries. Even more interesting, because it seems to defy common sense, is the discovery that much of the resistance toward digital reading comes from readers in their twenties and younger. One would have expected such resistance to come almost exclusively from older, more tradition-oriented, readers. That this is not the case, however, is only one of the surprises to be found in Words Onscreen.

Side Note: I read Words Onscreen in digital form and, as a result, while reading it I experienced firsthand some of what Baron describes in the book. I have found, however, that as I gain experience in reading e-books, I am beginning to overcome some of the limitations inherent to digital reading. ( )
  SamSattler | Jan 22, 2015 |
Free review copy. Tragic irony or poetic justice: the e-reader advance copy was a total formatting mess.

For a book like this, it may be important to establish the reviewer’s bona fides. So here goes: Our house has a room of built-in bookshelves and another room completely covered in bookshelves, and I have designs on library-style back-to-back rows in the center eventually, when the space in our current shelves runs out. We use Library of Congress categorization for the nonfiction. I love the smell of old books; they smell like raisin bread. I’ve reread books to pieces, though admittedly not the great books the author wants me to be rereading. I tried to ban laptops in the classroom, but have reverted to just requiring an honor code pledge to stay off the internet, which I think at least decreases the amount of time my students spend “multitasking.”

With that out of the way, this book in defense of print is half arrant nonsense and half very important issues worth considering, especially when there are indeed foolish people in the world who think that physical books can be completely abandoned. A significant part of the book tells the story of changes in reading practices over time, including a move away from reading aloud/moving one’s lips while reading; the adoption of an ordered alphabet and therefore the possibility of indexing; and the adoption of page numbers, which she considers particularly important in shaping how people interacted with books. Despite the reality of continuous change, we were, the book implicitly argues, at a perfect point in the mid-twentieth century, and e-books are sending us downhill. For example, “find,” Baron argues, reshapes reading from a linear/continuous activity to a “random-access” process. This strikes me as a misuse of computer jargon, though reading practices clearly are changing. She doesn’t discuss old accusations that the novel was destroying morality or the older accusations that print would destroy memory, though there’s something of an echo in her contention that e-reading threatens the survival of long-form reading.

Unfortunately, Baron relies a lot on rhetorical questions (is it good that there are so many erotica groups on Goodreads?) and analogies (e-books are like exercise belts that purport to do the exercise for you, while print is real exercise), which is dangerous if your audience doesn’t agree with you. To me, the prospect of lots and lots of people reading erotica because no one else knows what they’re reading is not a parade of horribles. That’s just a parade. Baron also believes, because of her own experiences and those of various authors she quotes, that no one has ever cried reading an e-book. Nobody tell her about fan fiction. I mean, she’s gotten this far in life …

In our fallen world, some people use reading to avoid social interaction. (The horror!) She even says that the Japanese have perfected this art on the subway, while acknowledging in the very same sentence that in fact, cultural constraints make it very unlikely that a stranger on the Japanese subway would approach you no matter what you were doing. Reading on electronic devices is simply standing in for parts of modern life she doesn’t like. For example, in her list of prescriptions for improvement, she argues that adults should “[m]odel focused face-to-face activity for students and progeny,” which sounds good but has essentially nothing to do with reading as such.

Baron also makes the move I hate absolutely the most in critical treatments of electronic access. (1) Bemoan the loss of “serendipity” that occurs when we no longer wander the stacks. (2) Bemoan the way that it is so easy to get sidetracked when you’re searching online. You’re reading one Wikipedia entry (or TvTropes), and forty minutes later you’re still chasing down an interesting related thought. These are exactly the same thing! You’re just describing one in a positive way and one in a negative way! Infuriatingly, she offers these plaudits/criticisms one right after the other, insensible of the contradiction. I do think a more careful argument could be made about the likelihood that the stacks were in an order that kept you more or less on topic in your browsing versus random tangents on Wikipedia. However, I think even that argument would be wrong, not least because of the structures of power encoded in existing categorization systems—your serendipity was dependent on the decisions of the people in charge of those, or at least of the people in charge of your local bookstore. Algorithmic serendipity is not obviously worse and in some ways better.

Probably the most ridiculous universalist moment comes when Baron argues that physical papers are good because you can leave them on your desk, be reminded of them, and come back to them at a more appropriate time. Apparently she’s never heard of a work folder or a to-do list. (Okay, that’s too snide. Apparently she does not appreciate that what works for some people in organizing their work spaces does not work for other people.) “It is faster to thumb through tangible files in a drawer than to open dozens of computer files to find what you are looking for.” I don’t know what OS she’s using, but mine lets me search in faster ways than that! I shudder to think what her computer files look like, but more to the point, that’s not what mine look like, whereas if I wanted to thumb through tangible files I would have to get off my couch, drive half an hour to work, and then try and figure out where the heck I stored whatever it is I needed to find. Or, more realistically, I could go to HeinOnline and get a copy without leaving my couch. She argues that digital files are at risk of deletion at the touch of a button, but I have Dropbox and multiple copies keeping stuff safe, whereas my father threw out all of the college notebooks I meant to save, so my feelings are quite different.

Other considerations: E-reading means that carrying around an impressive tome is no longer as impressive to others, so reading is less of a way to show off, and we can read whatever we want, even if it’s of inferior quality. Baron thinks the inability to show off is an “irony,” I guess because she thinks e-readers are bad, though she does acknowledge the advantages of convenience, cost, and improved access for many people who wouldn’t have been able to get the same things in print (people with print disabilities do not show up in this book). But even cost is a double-edged sword, she suggests, because if books become too cheap, no one will value them. And then that’s the source of another annoying inconsistency: she touts used books as more desirable because they’re cheaper than e-books. This is the kind of throw-everything-at-the-wall argumentation that overwhelms Baron’s attempts at balance wherein she occasionally mentions the merits of e-readers.

Baron likewise discusses real concerns about reader (and internet) privacy mixed with nonsense: she doesn’t want her sophomoric comments on Chomsky to be part of the public record, but doesn’t seem to realize that note sharing can be turned off on Kindle.

Serious concerns: there is some evidence that reading electronically encourages less intensive reading and rereading, thus less contemplation of what’s been read. Whether this is generational and will correct itself very much remains to be seen. There’s also some evidence (again, its potential persistence unknown) that lack of physical engagement with a book—turning pages!—may decrease attention and memory, because of the physicality of our memory and the importance of remembering “where it was on the page.” We read web pages in an “F” pattern, ignoring a lot on the bottom right (though she doesn’t provide any data that physical books are actually read differently, or really physical magazines since those are the closest matches and have lots of ads to ignore).

Many students she surveyed in several countries preferred physical textbooks because they found them easier to study from even though they were otherwise fond of reading electronically; physical books encouraged rereading. If that’s right, then replacing schoolbooks with iPads or electronic texts may be foolish in the long term, whether or not it saves money now. It’s important to note the significant amount of variation among students, though—nearly 60% would prefer a print textbook at the same price, but that means 40% wouldn’t; another poll of MBA students found that 20% said they read more in e-textbooks than they would have in print, while more than 40% said they read less. Additionally, she cites research suggesting that comprehension is pretty similar across media, at least for adults.

It’s also notable that the students’ common preference for print in certain circumstances refutes any apocalyptic account. People seem to have a decent sense of when print would be helpful to them, even if they’re youngsters who mostly interact electronically—like the sixth-greater who almost never writes by hand, except when she’s writing poetry; apparently she wasn’t ruined by her mostly electronic experience. So one good point Baron makes is that we shouldn’t assume that, just because youngsters have a lot of devices, they can be shifted completely to electronic texts for educational purposes.

More to worry about: There is also evidence people are reading more shorter things, and taking less time with each thing they read, and she even cites a study suggesting that digital availability of journals makes references more recent (people don’t bother to read the older stuff) and narrower. Forced browsing, she suggests, may have deepened scholarship. Now we are mere flaneurs, flitting from work to work. But it is notable that she quotes Robert Darnton’s description of English readers in the second half of the eighteenth century as similar to the present condition: “[Men] read all kinds of material, especially periodicals and newspapers, and read it only once, then raced on to the next item.”

Electronic reading is often more discontinuous—people browse away and read something else; we (me too!) check our email in the middle of reading a book. Multitasking is, empirically, terrible for concentration and attention, and we’re far more confident than we should be of our ability to give attention to two things at once. But we don’t actually have much empirical data about how people used to read physical books. In any event, this distractibility decreases intense concentration, which is why some people have seen the need to put technological controls on their own ability to wander (I use LeechBlock). This is a very real phenomenon, but I don’t think it’s exactly about reading—playing online games has similar effects. Likewise, while the concern she has that electronic communication is distancing—she cites a study where the mere presence of a mobile phone led subjects to judge a relationship as being of lower quality and to have less empathy for the person they were talking to in person—that’s not a reading problem.

Baron is also concerned that e-books seem less like owned things—and of course our user agreements say they aren’t. If people don’t see themselves as owners, do they engage less? Well, I don’t know. She argues that people take less care of rental cottages than of their own homes, but that analogy doesn’t exactly work with a digital text, which is hard to leave with a leaky faucet. She also isn’t happy with our accumulation of digital objects like photos, either. “Yes, they have a kind of permanence, but it is more like the clutter in our attics or garages than the phsyical photos we once selectively preserved.” (Get offa my lawn!)

Not entirely relatedly, Baron doesn’t like the shrinking of college reading lists over the past few decades. Though she acknowledges that students didn’t always read everything on the syllabus, she thinks they read substantially more than they do now. (Citation needed.)

On one point we’re in unqualified agreement: we cannot assume that students know how to read well onscreen. They need to be taught how. This is also true of print. That’s the most sensible passage in the book.

Charming tidbit: from the “more things change” category, Seneca rebuked “those who displayed scrolls with decorated knobs and colored labels rather than reading them.” ( )
2 vote rivkat | Dec 28, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199315760, Hardcover)

People have been reading on computer screens for several decades now, predating popularization of personal computers and widespread use of the internet. But it was the rise of eReaders and tablets that caused digital reading to explode. In 2007, Amazon introduced its first Kindle. Three years later, Apple debuted the iPad. Meanwhile, as mobile phone technology improved and smartphones proliferated, the phone became another vital reading platform.

In Words Onscreen, Naomi Baron, an expert on language and technology, explores how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues, including convenience, potential cost-savings, and the opportunity to bring free access to books and other written materials to people around the world. Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks. Users are easily distracted by other temptations on their devices, multitasking is rampant, and screens coax us to skim rather than read in-depth. What is more, if the way we read is changing, so is the way we write. In response to changing reading habits, many authors and publishers are producing shorter works and ones that don't require reflection or close reading.

In her tour through the new world of eReading, Baron weights the value of reading physical print versus online text, including the question of what long-standing benefits of reading might be lost if we go overwhelmingly digital. She also probes how the internet is shifting reading from being a solitary experience to a social one, and the reasons why eReading has taken off in some countries, especially the United States and United Kingdom, but not others, like France and Japan. Reaching past the hype on both sides of the discussion, Baron draws upon her own cross-cultural studies to offer a clear-eyed and balanced analysis of the ways technology is affecting the ways we read today--and what the future might bring.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:51 -0400)

Discusses the rise of e-readers and how their popularity is affecting the way people read books, the way people write books, and what might be lost if reading goes entirely digital.-- Publsiher's description. Overview: People have been reading on computer screens for several decades now, predating popularization of personal computers and widespread use of the internet. But it was the rise of eReaders and tablets that caused digital reading to explode. In 2007, Amazon introduced its first Kindle. Three years later, Apple debuted the iPad. Meanwhile, as mobile phone technology improved and smartphones proliferated, the phone became another vital reading platform. In Words Onscreen, Naomi Baron, an expert on language and technology, explores how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues, including convenience, potential cost-savings, and the opportunity to bring free access to books and other written materials to people around the world. Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks. Users are easily distracted by other temptations on their devices, multitasking is rampant, and screens coax us to skim rather than read in-depth. What is more, if the way we read is changing, so is the way we write. In response to changing reading habits, many authors and publishers are producing shorter works and ones that don't require reflection or close reading. In her tour through the new world of eReading, Baron weights the value of reading physical print versus online text, including the question of what long-standing benefits of reading might be lost if we go overwhelmingly digital. She also probes how the internet is shifting reading from being a solitary experience to a social one, and the reasons why eReading has taken off in some countries, especially the United States and United Kingdom, but not others, like France and Japan. Reaching past the hype on both sides of the discussion, Baron draws upon her own cross-cultural studies to offer a clear-eyed and balanced analysis of the ways technology is affecting the ways we read today-and what the future might bring.… (more)

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