Innovation not Limitation

In Hannah McGregor’s history of publishing class, we often talked about how new technology doesn’t “kill” old technology, that they can in fact live alongside one another. Spotify exists, so do record players, both are forms of listening to music, both offer different experiences and both are great. There’s this fear with digital reading that the print book will become obsolete, a fear that it will disappear. On top of that there’s this added fear of the new technology. It’s a habit we humans have. When Gutenberg’s print book was “invented” they called it witchcraft and lamented for the handwritten books of the scribes. When the handwritten book was “invented” they mourned the loss of the scroll. When people started writing stories down Socrates said it would melt our brains and we’d never be able to remember anything anymore… that oral storytelling was the way to go. My point is, “reading” (storytelling) is an ever changing form, that all forms past and present count, and no form is more “pure” than the rest. I also argue it’s more important to look at it as storytelling instead of reading and that it’s our thirst for an entertaining narrative that spurs innovation.

When reading online I tend to have a difficult time settling into a longer reading, and am instead used to skimming for pertinent information. Even when I’m interested in what I’m reading, I find myself wanting to skip forward and get to the point. It’s only when I force myself to slow down and focus (hypothes.is helps accomplish this) that I can connect with the longer form of online reading. Then again, it honestly hurts my eyes if I stare at a screen for too long (Digital Eye Strain). This is more about personal preference than anything, and I prefer print if I’m doing long form reading.

Of course, online reading is good for quickly disseminating information. While there has been a rash of fake news, there’s also credible sources (NY Times, Kottke, Shatzkin etc.) out there that are able to produce reliable articles. Plus, even the longer articles are pretty short in the grand scheme of things. There’s also the ability to update information if someone is able to disprove a “fact”, or there’s at least the ability to have a conversation around it (in the comments). Aside from the standard Medium sized article (pun intended), there are micro stories (tweets and tweet threads) or lengthy, novel sized stories (fanfiction). Both have their own tone, and allow for different levels of detail and expression.

Technology doesn’t limit the stories we can tell, it allows us to be even more innovative than before. From Twinscapes to Twitter, humans enjoy sharing narratives and are hungry for them in any form they present themselves. Some forms work better for some people than others for a variety of reasons. Audio books (oral narrative) work better for people who want to multi-task or enjoy the “company” of someone telling them a story. I prefer print books because they don’t strain my eyes and force me to focus more on the narrative. Other people prefer ebooks because they’re cheap and easy. Here’s the best part, you aren’t limited to one form or the other, you can enjoy all forms of narrative as many people do.

You can have whatever you like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Codices have been around for more than 500 years, they have evolved over the years to now become e-books. E-books have evolved to have many different formats for different devices (e.g. Kindle, nooks, etc). Their portability and accessibility were taken many steps further and now we have audiobooks.

Every single person has their own way to learn and reacts differently to new information. I don’t think audiobooks are a form of reading, rather they are an experiential medium for users with different capabilities. for people who prefer to listen rather than (physically) engage completely.

I think it’s a matter of investment: sometimes you want to be 100% focused on a medium: with your eyes, body, and hands e.g. with a book. Sometimes you just want to listen while doing something else e.g. audiobook, podcast, radio. Avvai, my class fellow, likes to listen to audiobooks while following along with the physical book in front of her. It’s not right or wrong, it’s her preferred way of experiencing a narrative.

All the different mediums/platforms to read out there, have an audience: which makes me believe they are wanted by someone. There is a gap in the market which these services fulfilled e.g. nook, kindle, audible, apple books, etc. They all get traffic: in this world, if they are up and running it means they are useful for someone somewhere. As a designer, I know that no one design/system can fully satisfy everyone; even if said system is very sophisticated.

When I was young, graphics novels and comic books were frowned upon by my parents as they were not considered reading. Consequently, I was never allowed to buy a comic book. Instead, I would sneak Archie comics from my friends or read them in book shops, hidden from parental eyes. Now, I am firm that reading in its traditional form is not the best medium for every single person. Many people respond to graphic medium much more than they do to traditional codices. A nice way to tell learners apart is when given a new appliance to install, do they read the instruction manual or do they put on a youtube video.

I do not think any one form is superior as compared to another, they all serve different purposes and cater to different audiences. they are not stealing each others’ markets/users. Everyone out there has a different preference and unique way of learning that it is wrong to consider one medium “better” than another.

For all the Bettys in the world who are afraid of tech…

This weekend I met a mid-40s lady, Betty, who was struggling to upgrade her old 2014 MacBook Pro, despite it having a large crack on her screen, with the newer USB-C powered MacBook Pros. We had an interesting conversation about technology, and in the end, I could not convince her to try new technology. This got me thinking about my own views with digital reading, as I could somewhat empathize with Betty. I’m quite a traditionalist with my reading habits; I just can’t quite get into audiobooks or ebooks. However, to not be a hypocrite with the opinion I shared with Betty, I recognize that I must move forward, that perhaps reading must also move forward to digital technologies and future advances.

The traditionalist in me can’t give up the overall feeling I get from reading print books. It is pure magic; it is unlike anyone experience there is in our lives. Perhaps it’s partly because of the ownership that comes with books, the physical aspect as I’ve learned in Professor Hannah McGregor’s class about the history of “The Book” and the effect of its tangibility, social & cultural value from a physical object. A new study shows that millennials actually prefer print books to ebooks, outlining that there is a strong factor of emotion that comes to play when making an opinion about books. 

While almost everyone expressed a strong attachment to physical books, and no one embraced a fully digital reading experience, older consumers, contrary to what one might expect, saw more advantages than younger consumers to reading with an e-reader. They referenced physical benefits that might not be as relevant to younger consumers, such as the lightweight nature of e-readers and the ability to zoom in on text (Alexis Blue-U, University of Arizona).

To support this idea, I was able to find a popular Reddit thread that outlined many users’ everyday reasons for not liking ebooks: “For some strange reason, I get nauseous when reading from an e-reader.”, “I live in a large city and rely on public transit. It is less likely that I would be mugged for my book than I would be for my kobo, kindle, or iPad.”, “Formatting. With e-books, some pages are just a mess.”, “I like taking my book down to the beach and I’m afraid of getting sand all in its components.” Could there be more traditionalist Bettys than I thought? 

I think I’m more interested in learning about the technology that advances digital reading experiences than the actual technology that currently exists. I understand that ebooks can be more practical and economical for many consumers, but I’m more interested in how we can apply the emotional value from the physicality of a book onto digital reading experiences because I know we can get there. Like AI technology, I believe we can get to a point where man meets machine, which is a scary thought, but I know it is happening. As we lose the traditions from generations before, I wonder if we are able to keep memories and moments of the past and include it in future technology. 

Betty shared with me that one of her greatest reasons for her hesitancy is fear. She fears trying something that’s foreign to her because she’s afraid of forgetting what she already knows. Perhaps this is an inherent fear in all of us, with change, with technological advances, with the future. We can treasure traditional print reading and we can be curious about new digital reading ways. Perhaps there isn’t one greatest form of reading, but the very act of reading is what makes the experience the greatest of all. I hope one day Betty will have the courage and try the new MacBook Pro with touch bar. I’ll start by downloading an ebook for my guilty pleasure reading.

Alternative, not less.

Since the 1970’s the concept of different learning styles began percolating and since then, it has shaped the classroom. With most of us possessing a general understanding of our own learning styles and the fact that people have different learning styles, the development of different reading formats is well overdue.  Digital reading and audiobooks, in particular, the relatively new reading formats that allow readers to engage in new, not different ways.

Digital reading through e-readers and using the internet are much like text reading still requires visual perception, but offer those with visual impairments ways to modify their reading experience than traditional books. These include the ability to invert colours and enlarge text among many other features. The physicality of an object is not really present in e-reading as it utilizes an electronic device and the “collection” of books can only be seen through a virtual library. While e-reading can be beneficial, it does have some limitations; mainly as a result of how we were interacting with these types of readers. Digital reading in both e-readers and the internet do open readers to hyperlinking.  Which can be beneficial, but also it does pose “limitless input and decisions, including images, video and multiple hyperlinks that lead to even more information.” As a result, digital readers will often skim text which not necessarily the same reading habit they would have for physical books.

Audiobooks, on the other hand, would greatly appeal to more auditory learning styles and open the opportunity to read for those who may have an impairment that prohibits them from “traditional” forms of reading.  In classrooms, audiobooks offer a number of benefits that include: Increases comprehension,  Removes printed word decoding anxiety, and Increases word exposure and improves vocabulary. The same benefits could also apply to adult readers. In only offering the “traditional” reading forms as we have done, we’re excluding the means of reading from those who may have dyslexia or illiterate. Audiobooks, in this case, open up the reading experience to a broader audience that we have been doing thus far.

 

The Medium is Not the Message

“I don’t believe there are books I’ve never ‘read’ because I have only heard them, or poems I’ve not experienced because I’ve only heard the poets read them. Actually, I believe that if the writer is someone who can communicate well aloud (some writers can’t), you often get much more insight into a story or poem by hearing it.”— Neil Gaiman

In English there are many things we agree we can read:

The room filled with well-dressed strangers

The mouthing of lips from across the table

The strokes of paint fanned over the canvas

Yet when it comes to digital books, for some reason the agreement seems to end.

Is reading an ebook still reading?

Do books on tape count as reading?

Our ability to read exists in many forms, from interpreting shapes, to gaging situations and listening to sounds. Regardless of format, be it a physical book, an audiobook, or an ebook, the messages they carry remains the same—making them different paths that lead to the same end. To think that there is a hierarchy within the forms (or claiming one is more “pure”)  is to negate the historic ways people have learned information, the different ways people receive information (see the social model of disability), and the quality of the information they get through these different forms.  

For most of human history, writing has not been the dominant mode of human communication. The written word has existed for less than 6,000 years, and it is suggested that we have yet to develop the mental processes specialized for reading the written text, and instead rely on our older cognitive tools that have developed to understand oral language. As  Neuroscientist VS Ramamchandran argues:

“Language comprehension and production evolved in connection with hearing, probably 150,000 years ago and to some extent is ‘hard wired’; whereas writing is 5,000 to 7,000 years old – partially going piggyback on the same circuits, but partially involving new brain structures like the left angular gyrus .”  

As oral storytelling and the written word are intrinsically linked within our physical states, we should think of them as two sides of the same coin—to read is to listen. Indeed, most readers do something called ‘subvocalization’, which is the habit of ‘saying’ the words on the page in your mind as if they were an external voice. In fact, those of us who subvocalize when we read will find it incredibly difficult to even imagine any other form of reading.

Writers of great historical importance in ‘western’ literature, from Homer to various contributors to the Bible over multiple centuries were never in-fact writers but oral storytellers. And in the case of the latter, literacy became a powerful tool of social control through the delegitimization of religious stories not contained in sacred texts.

But does this make their work any less valuable? Any less literate? Of course not.

So why would we assume that listening to audiobooks is somehow inferior to reading them?

Listening to oral stories and reading texts both disseminate the same set of ideas, feelings, and messages. The mediums may vary, but the message remains the same. Text used to be the only means of relaying information across space and time, but modern technology allows for the spoken word to be stored and shipped in the same way, and it can even be used to convey information that text is often lacking, like a specific intonation, or a musical score.

 

When the question of “what is reading” was posited I could not help but think of the Examined Life episode with Judith Butler where she explores the meaning behind “what is walking” and how we as a society have a narrow notion of how bodies are used. To limit the idea of reading as being something we only do with our eyes, or within the contained structure of printed books, is to fail to value to the experiences of those who exist outside our default norm. Digital formats like ebook and are essential for those with visual impairments (who can change the size of  the text on an e-reader), those with dyslexia (who can apply Open Dyslexic font), those who simply aren’t able to physically turn the pages of a book, or those in remote communities who don’t have access to physical books. Audiobooks work in much the same way. Originally created as wax cylinders as part of the initiative of the American Institute for the Blind, they are now used by those with visual impairments, by children who struggle with reading, people who learn auditorily, and people who are non-native speakers (and plenty more!). These “non-traditional” ways of reading do not negate any of the information conveyed by the authors. Much like Butler’s claim that the use of a wheelchair is still ‘taking a walk’, listening to an audiobook or reading a digital copy is still reading, as the relationship between the producer and the consumer of the text is the same.

Some have argued that the information provided through these forms is somehow less valuable, or less tangible. Yet research has argued that information is equally comprehended in these different forms. Furthermore, others have argued that listening to audiobooks actually helps people read. Audiobooks are not a substitute for literacy, but they are also not something that should come with any of the stigma attached to illiteracy.

 

 

 

Extra, extra

Discuss how different digital reading experiences are similar or different from one another. What distinguishes each? Are they all forms of reading? Is one more “pure” than the rest?

The other day during a job interview I was asked where I get my media and how I engage with it and I really had to stop and think about it. Part of my answer was that most of the news I read, I read on twitter from seeing an article that has been retweeted and then choosing to click on it and read it in full. What this generally means is that I read the news on my smartphone.

According to NeimanLab’s Laura Owen, there is, well, “bad news” about reading news on mobile. A paper published in 2018 by Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Johanna Dunaway, Kathleen Searles, Mingxiao Sui, and Newly Paul argues that attention is not the same for mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, as opposed to attention to news on computers. They conducted an extensive study on web traffic data and used eye tracking in two lab experiments to capture the effects of mobile devices on attention.

Through tracking attention to news links in the following ways: “duration of fixation on links embedded in news stories, number of fixations on embedded news links, and a dichotomous measure of whether participants fixate on links at all,” they determined that on average, people spend less time on news story content on mobile, and are less likely to notice links on their mobile devices in comparison to when they are on their computers. Their overall findings were that people spend less time on news web pages online and that their focus wavers more while on these devices, and so platforms that prioritize delivering our news through mobile (like Twitter) can be harmful since readers are processing less of the information.

It is worth considering how reading on mobile devices can change our reading experience because according to Fortune.com, 85% of U.S adults read their news on a mobile device. That is not even digitally — that is specifically on mobile!

“There is the stereotype that people buried in their smartphones in public places have tiny minds to go along with their tiny screens and tiny attention spans. None of this bodes well for the future of long-form journalism” — Forbes

Interestingly, a study done in 2016 by the Pew Research Center also investigated how much time people on their cellphones spend reading news articles and what kind of routes readers take to get to news websites from their phones. Pew specifically wanted to measure if mobile users are still responding to long-form journalism (so journalism as was originally intended).

This is what Pew found:

What they discovered was that reading time does, in fact, increase with the increase of the word count. On average, cellphone users spend 123 seconds on long-form articles versus 57 seconds on short-form articles.

While Kevin Murnane’s Forbes article “Think People Who Read On Smartphones Have Short Attention Spans? Think Again” seemed optimistic about these stats, I am not sure I share his positive outlook, because those are awfully short times spent on news articles if you compare them to the amount of time each of my classmates spent on each individual article for our readings every week.

I think there are a number of reasons why readers are not spending as much time reading on mobile devices (despite the increase in accessibility to news sources), the first being distractions. I do not have push notifications on my laptop, but I do on my phone. If someone is as much as writing me a message on snapchat, that is visible to me and can immediately grab my attention, leaving me to forget the article.

Most of us skim on both our mobile and our computers, but the space is narrower on smartphones than it is on a computer, which can result in the article length feeling more daunting, thus resulting in an increase in skimming. And my third rationale is that phones do not necessarily utilize tabs in the same way that computers do. My phone has multiple tabs, but only one online tab visible at a time, and so when I go to delete unused tabs I often have over 20 to delete that I had long since forgotten about because a new link route had been opened.

I can see why mobile reading might be a less “pure” form of reading than reading on one’s computer, with print journalism trumping both in terms of providing the best reader experience resulting in the absorption of information. That being said, access is a necessity, and I have easy access to articles on my phone, whereas most newspapers cost money. I also have zero interest in having newspapers pile up and occupy my already cramped living space, and so while I might make the switch to reading more on my computer rather than mobile, newspaper journalism remains an unattractive alternative.

Works Cited:

People read news differently on phones than they do on computers, new study suggests

85% of U.S Adults Read the News on a Mobile Device

Think People Who Read the News on Smartphones Have Short Attention Spans? Think Again

Google and I have grown (separately) since January 2019

I walked into PUB802 expecting to learn to code and walk away with being able to comprehend the backend working of technological magic. However, this class helped me gather vocabulary about publishing technologies and create opinions about the implications of feudalism on the internet.

 

I always figured there was lots going on at the back of the internet, but it was always a vague curiosity and not something I actively tried to figure out. This course helped me answer many random unanswered questions while equipping me with the vocabulary and confidence to speak about technology.
I never had the opportunity to actively try and figure out how digital technologies evolved so quickly and entered seamlessly into our lives. The front end of technology (hardware, the advertising of products) is so glamorous, flashy and attractive that, growing up, I never really thought it was important to keep up with the back end advances in the field.

The physicality of all things internet was an eye-opener: we, as a generation, use the internet as a common everyday feature without most of us diving into the back end working and logistics. I feel it is like using a refrigerator: very few people actually go out and learn how one works and yet it is an absolute necessity in this time and age.

There were some topics covered in class, that had a profound impact on how I think about technology. Understanding all the consent we have given to big companies (google and facebook) and the amount of control it gives them over our online experience is mind-boggling. I wish I understood the perils of over-sharing online, earlier in life.

I did NOT realize how cool and helpful metadata can be: the idea of having a system that collects key information about published content and makes it easy to search, reference and store blows my mind.

My previous experiences with publishing technologies

I had worked with WordPress beforehand, writing articles and editing for a digital magazine, so it was not a completely new experience. However, tagging (metadata!!!) was a new idea and I saw how easy searching and compiling became after the use of careful tagging.

I did not know the real way to write/edit a Wikipedia article and it was neat to know that it is a very collaborative platform with people who check and make sure everything is up to standard and format.

My thoughts and opinions now

Alex Singh’s twitter thread taught me the metaphor of nomadism and feudalism. Growing up with technologies that gradually grew in power, at an accelerated pace, and took over everything (online advertising, networking, maps, even online versions of word, excel, and powerpoint) was something I had never consciously registered. The early classes set the premise for a new understanding of tech giants.

I also understood the struggles and challenges faces by publishing platforms and crowdfunding: it is not easy to come up with ways to earn money online for providing quality content.

I feel that technology is a tool that greatly improves human life in every aspect imaginable. What unsettles me, however, is the uninformed intervention of third powerful party which swoops in and uses the (seemingly private) information to make money. My main takeaway from the course is that data privacy and the consequences of over-sharing online should be taught to children in schools.

 

Reading is Reading is Reading is Reading is…

The summer I discovered fanfiction, I started to do the bulk of my reading online. I was thirteen years old at the time, reading on homemade fan sites and platforms that had either been co-opted or were fanfic-friendly with awful interfaces (those spaces were not the web libraries Frank Chimero envisions, let me tell you). Still, I have been reading online for years, and if my experience with digital reading has taught me anything, it’s that:

  1. We definitely have to train our brains to read digitally.
  2. People can be just as snobby about how they read online as how they read books.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that cultural capital of digital reading is already less than that of print—though the reasons why could fill an entire semester’s worth of blog post and won’t really be covered, here. Suffice it to say that there is something about the digital medium that makes it be perceived as lesser than to its print counterpart. Therefore, it’s no surprise that within the digital medium, those forms that most resemble print (i.e. eBooks, online articles) are the forms that hold the most cultural capital. Though I don’t agree that one from of reading is more “pure” than another, I do feel that the sentiment exists.

Audiobooks are a great example of this. Associate professor of education Beth Rogowsky of Bloomsberg University of Pennsylvania says she viewed audiobooks as “cheating.” This implies that listening to a print book is not a form of reading, but a way to consume stories that is viewed negatively due to its accessibility and ease of use; it’s a short-cut for people who don’t want to spend their time reading Real Books.

The act of reading a book traditionally is something that requires a certain degree of privilege: one must know how to read, which means having the ability to attend school. Traditionally reading a book also requires leisure time, whereas audiobooks can be listened to on the go—while driving, working, etc. This supports the idea of audiobooks as being less valuable, or as a technology that is used to “cheat.” The expectation is that it’s what you listen to when you can’t get to a Real Book, not as a valuable piece of technology in its own right. There are even misconceptions that we do not retain as much information when listening to audiobooks.

Essentially, these arguments use the same logic surrounding the question of what books have and do not have literary merit: those use plain, easy-to-understand language, and can be read quickly—like romance, crime, and erotica—are considered to be commercial fiction, which are considered to be low brow for many reasons, but mostly for their accessibility (in language, in price point, etc.). Commercial fiction is not Important, and is therefore not part of the literary canon, which is curated by tastemakers and the Academy. Not called an ivory tower for nothing, university English departments are still rife with snobby professors who believe that the English literary canon, for all its lack of diversity and generally inaccessible language and writing (James Joyce, I’m looking at you)—is the only thing people should be reading. In my opinion, this argument has merely been superimposed onto the question of form in digital environments; instead of viewing commercial fiction as lesser due to its accessibility, we think of audiobooks as such. The scope has shifted from what you read to how you read, despite the fact that the underlying arguments are the same.

So, yes, I think that there continues to be a belief that “pure” or “tainted” reading experiences exist—but I want no part in them. People who feel this way about audiobooks do not consider how helpful they can be to those learning how to read, or those who can’t read in a traditional manner due to accessibility issues. I believe that as technology changes, our ways of reading change as well, and no one method is not better than the other.

Reading is Reading is Reading… or is it?

Is reading a book on your phone different than on your computer, or on an ereader? Are we good at reading digitally? Does digital reading change the way we perceive text? Context, including distractions like internet connectivity, plays a large role in how various digital reading experiences can be distinguished.

Context shapes how we read and how we interpret what we read. The surrounding elements of a book or piece of text such as where a person is reading, the goals they have for the reading experience (whether they want to be informed or entertained etc.), and the interface of the text all will change how the text is perceived. Reading on your computer or phone has an innate connectivity, that many ereaders don’t have. When I’m on my phone I feel like I’m in a state of multi-tasking because the phone itself has the so many other functions outside of just reading. With many tabs and apps open all at once, I can hop from my ebook, to look something up on Google, check in with Instagram, text a friend, then get back into the book. Patricia Greenfield found that multi-tasking slows the reading speed down, although it doesn’t seem to impact understanding of the text. I can definitely relate to that finding about, however I would  argue that my comprehension takes a hit from this experience because I’m not focused and engaging deeply.

Since ereaders are designed primarily for reading (rather than other actions like browsing, texting or emailing), I can imagine that I would be able to focus on reading much more than attempting to read on my phone. When I read, I want to do so in a printed format so that I can limit distractions and really immerse myself, but that is perhaps because I grew up reading printed books and I’ve been really stubborn in transitioning to digital experiences. An ereading device would, in theory, offer me the distraction free reading experience I’m looking for.

I really like Maria Konnikova’s stance on this debate as she doesn’t say which type of reading experience is best, but rather that as we all start to read online more and more, we just need to become better digital readers and learn how to work at limiting distractions in order to have deeper reading experiences online. She stated in her New Yorker article, “We cannot go backwards. As children move more toward an immersion in digital media, we have to figure out ways to read deeply there.”

I think that ebooks have come a long way for reader retention and comprehension, but what I think will really require more work, as Konnikova suggests, is articles or other forms of long format articles found online. For the similar reasons of distraction, I find myself giving less importance to online reading experiences. I often scan through the text since there is so much surrounding the text from ads and links to “related articles” and more. I don’t see the reading experience as in depth or valuable as a printed book because of this. Again, this is likely my own personal bias coming through. With learning and practice I could reverse the effects of years a childhood of reading in print.

Since each digital reading experience is so different, and has not had the benefit of hundreds of years of refinements like the reading of printed books, we still have a long way to go. Consider even hyperlinked interactive books, how do we become good readers of those? Are we able to remove distractions all together because of their ability to immerse readers into the story by allowing their choices to impact how the content plays out? Each of these new digital reading experiences have different contextual elements that distinguish them. We grapple with these elements in order to have an optimal reading experience and we may require new skills and practice to become better digital readings.


While observing the differences in reading experiences one question that also comes to my mind is one about form. Do we read or listen to audiobooks? I keep overhearing discussions and reading articles that make mention of audiobooks as a form of reading a book but I don’t entirely agree. I don’t agree because the definition of reading that I have come to adopt is that reading is done by visually decoding text. But, even as I type that statement, I realize that this overly simplified definition negates using braille as a form of reading, when vision is not required at all.

A screen reader may be reading the text to the user who is listening, but does that then mean that people with visual impairments don’t read? I definitely would disagree with that statement so I think my definition of reading needs updating. I would call upon the wikipedia definition, but even it’s explanation of reading needs to be revised. The page states, “The symbols are typically visual” and acknowledges both printed and tactile texts that can be read, but there is no mention on the entire page about audio.

As Linda Flanagan 

I really like this quote by William Irwin that states, “Audio books began as a boon to the blind and dyslexic and have been mistaken as a refuge for the illiterate and lazy.”  This article by Writer’s Edit outlines a helpful summary of the two sides of this debate and has started to convince me that listening to an audiobook is a form of reading especially when you look at the comprehension rates of reading visually or ‘reading’ by way of listening. I look forward to following how this debate unfolds.

I Object! A Pub 802 Reflection

I walked into PUB 802 feeling very excited and fascinated by the course syllabus, partly because I’m a rookie tech lover and constantly surround myself with social media and new tech forms. I soon realized that the class would be centered around thinking about technology with a critically analytic lens. I have never been in a seminar like this, or even felt challenged to think about technology in an academic way, so I felt very inspired to alter my thinking and learn further about the technology that consumes our everyday lives! To critically reflect on my experience in this course, I will address my attitudes towards each learning objectives from our course syllabus. 


Objective 1: To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume.

I felt most drawn to the articles from Week 7: data privacy, Lynn Neary’s article “Publishers’ Dilemma: Judge A Book By Its Data Or Trust The Editor’s Gut?[Week 9: Measuring & Tracking], and the text from Frank Chimero, “The Good Room” [Week 3: The Internet changes everything]. These articles and our class discussions during these weeks definitely challenged me to further my thinking and spiral down a rabbit hole of research and additional relative news articles. Technology is not just a fancy shining thing that needs our everyday attention; in fact, I’ve learned specifically from those weeks that perhaps we desperately need technology for our society to evolve and continue growing. Technology has thoroughly integrated into our lives; could it be for the better? I don’t believe we can go backward toward a time without tech now.

Objective 2: To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends

I feel that I’m quite up to date to popular news on technology while discovering them by the trusted Twitter; but with those stories, I read it, hear it, and go on with my day. However, this class has given me the opportunity to dive into the technology-related events and really question it’s deeper context and reasoning. Specifically, with the Facebook scandal, many of my close family/ friends vowed to never use Facebook again, and I started feeling a little hesitant towards social media. However, after reading Cory Doctorow’s “Deleting Facebook is not enough: without antitrust, the company will be our lives’ “operating system” [from Week 7: Data Privacy], I realized that if we don’t discuss and think critically about these issues, then it is a form of ignorance and avoidance to the problem. I learned that perhaps technology is not the real problem, but the problem is how creators/users interact and make bad decisions with technology.

Objective 3: To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work

I felt like one of the biggest missed opportunities in this class is that we didn’t learn how to code. I think it’s a fundamental learning objective that should have been included within the course schedule, as it’s an important and growing skill that could be beneficial to our relationship with technology/ publishing. I truly appreciate the mini-tech lessons, especially the first lesson we had that helped us understand how the web works (with the cool web drawing Juan made). I understand that learning how to code within 30 mins sounds impossible, but I wonder if we could have devoted a class to it. 3 hours seems reasonable? I often felt a little lost during the mini tech lessons as they were huge concepts squished into a slim 20 min time slot. Could workshops break up the discussion heavy component to this course? I think it would help us feel more motivated and on track with the course. It’s hard to be in a technology course and always talk, just talk, and not feel like we are interacting with tech more beyond using the basic publishing tools.

Objective 4: Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (hypothes.is)

I felt very comfortable with using WordPress before I came into this course, having run a small lifestyle blog site before. I also completed the exact same Wiki assignment in my undergrad English literature class, so I was familiar with the site and the weekly tasks. I particularly liked being provoked to annotate via hypothes.is as it kept me motivated to complete the readings and contribute to my class’ online discussion. I liked how it became a space for me to communicate with my cohort and further discuss how we each felt about the readings. I think hypothes.is is a powerful tool that can invoke better online reading, and with a couple more enhancements (better @ system or reply/comment area, or a better way to include photos and GIFS!), it can be game-changing.

Objective 5: Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology

I really liked each blog prompt, despite some taking more time from me to ponder and outline. I like feeling like I have a space to explore my thoughts, even if they are incomplete, incoherent ones. One of my biggest fears with sharing anything is the fear of failure or rejection, so knowing that I am sharing my opinion with my peers who do not judge me, but rather push me to think harder is really motivating and new for me. I particularly liked the task of reading everyone’s blog post and posting a comment during my lecture week. It inserted me into a position of having to challenge attitudes and ideas, despite initially agreeing to them and wanting to move on as I always do. One of my favourite things about this is seeing a thread going on in the comments in hypothes.is ! The digital party is always bumping! 


Overall, this class has opened my eyes to technology, to not simply read what I see and live in ignorance about it. Group discourse is important about tech issues because we can better understand and find ways to live a balanced life with technology (hence, the birth of recharge). I’m excited to learn about new technologies that come and interact with them the same way I did during this course, if not better and deeper.

Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019


Upon looking at the lineup of classes this semester, I must admit I was a little apprehensive to be taking what looked like a tech-heavy course load.  Despite being someone whose work is heavily based on digital technologies, I consider myself to be a bit of a Luddite. However, my original fears that Pub 802 was going to be “techy”, dry, and beyond my comprehension were quickly proven wrong. Instead, I found the reading material and subsequent class discussions to be generally exciting as they didn’t focus so much on the digital technologies per se but the social, political, and economic implications these technologies have. Overall, I feel like I have learned a lot from this class as well as met, and in some cases exceeded, the learning objectives set forth in September. Continue reading “Reflections on Pub 802, Spring 2019”

Yes, I want DATA!

I always want to have my own publishing company someday in the future. A small-scale, independent children’s book publisher will do. Hopefully based in Vancouver. My plan is to publish children’ picture books in Chinese and sell them to Chinese parents living in Canada.

When I dream about this publisher, I found a lot of obstacles that would drag me back into reality. I asked myself: How many Chinese immigrants have young children at home in Canada? What are their book-purchasing habits? Will they buy books in English or Chinese for their kids? Will they order books online and have the books shipped directly from China?

I know nothing about them. How am I supposed to sell books to them without knowing them?  Now, imagine if I had access to any data in the world, that will be great!

First, I want to learn about the population of Chinese communities in Canada. I want to find out how many Chinese parents are there in Canada and how many of them have child(ren) 3-10 years old. In addition, I also want to find out where they are mostly living. Are there more of them in Vancouver or Toronto? Which city do they prefer to live in? I would like to use this information because I want to know if I should start the publisher in Vancouver or Toronto or maybe other cities in Canada.

Second, I would like to explore their economic status. What kind of jobs are they doing? Do they have enough savings to support the education of their children? Will they be willing to spend money on children’s books or just borrow them from local libraries? For example, a survey among English readers has found that half of the picture book “purchases” made by the parents were either second-hand (34%) or came from the library (11%). Will the trend be similar within the Chinese community?

Third, I would like to learn about their psychographics. What do the parents want their children to learn from books? What kind of children’s books do they want to buy for their kid? Are they aware of how important reading is for young children? Do they care if the kids read in English or Chinese? This will help me to find the gap in the market.

To get the information without violating anyone’s privacy, I agree with my cohort member Moorea that “a layer of anonymity is needed”. I would only collect the data from anonymous parents who are willing to enter our database. I would not force anyone to join our survey or secretly collect their preferences, neither will I be aware of their personal information such as name, date of birth, home address or private contact information.

Data is important to any business. For me, I want to use the information to decide if I am going to have this publisher. If the data shows that only few parents is interested in encouraging kids to read in Chinese, then I might not start this publisher or I might adopt another strategy.

Data will help me to position myself. Do I want to publish for younger kids (3-5 years old) or do I want to publish for older kids or even teenagers? Data will tell.  Data will also help me to get my first capitals. It is the evidence to support my business plan and convince any potential investors or to successfully receive grants.

Yes…I can think of millions of benefits to my (future) business if I can get access to any data in the world. However, I am also aware that part of the privacy will be sacrificed in exchange for the benefits. If I collect and analyze the data to satisfy readers/customers’ needs (and make just enough money for me to support myself), will the end justify the means?

A dream: a world where our information is protected and truly private

While there is data that can predict the next blockbuster hits, as shared from Stephen Phillips’ “Can Big Data Find the Next Blockbuster Hit“, I believe that the most useful information a publisher can obtain is from the author and his/her readership credentials to prove that the author is worthy of being published. It’s sad that the amount of likes or follower count is how we qualify how worthy an author’s work is to be published, but I believe this is what the future of publishing is moving towards. Many publishers look at an author’s previous publishing experiences, or if an author has previous entertainment success to use as a security blanket, as a means to promise success and high profit from a project. For example, it’s been very popular to look at the social media account information from prospective poets, as most “Instapoets” are now published based off of viral posts from their poetry. I think this is how most celebrities become authors too. It’s so risky for publishers to publish works, as most ideas don’t really make money. I understand that not most publishers publish just for monetary value, but for the large-house publishing companies, I don’t see it any other way. It’s as if this data acts as the closest publishers can bet to a promised return on a project. 

While I’m not too familiar with the types of data there are for publishers to use in their favour, I’m particularly interested in Apple’s announcement this week with the launch of Apple News+, a brand new subscription service that offers human-curated news to the user. One of the most impressive perks is that Apple promises to keep the user’s reading habits private, from Apple and advertisers. Apple shared that “publishers will be paid based on how many people read… data will be collected in such a way that it won’t know who read what, just what total time is spent on different stories.” I’m interested in exploring this flip in the question, that what if readership data is restricted from publishers? How would it impact the productivity of the publisher, or alternate the decision-making process of what gets published? This is a huge stab at Google and Facebook, who are notoriously known for selling our data to brands, most often without our permission. I think this is a great step for Apple as a brand, but I wonder if this makes many advertisers pull out from working with Apple, or publishers nervous that they will be weakened from not accessing primitive data. I respect Apple as a company because it continuously sought to differentiate itself from companies like Google and Facebook by emphasizing on privacy standards. I admire that Apple focuses on being consumer-friendly, so I wonder what this could mean for publishers. I think if a publisher can be like this, it would gain even more appreciation and support from readers. It’s a strong way to increase branding value, by making the reader feel like they are respected and don’t have to fear for an invasion of privacy. However, if publishers don’t depend on readership data, then how can they strive for blockbuster hits? Can it be taken as just a game of chance or the gut feeling? How successful can this be? I guess time will tell, but given this powerful initiative from a big-time corporation like Apple, I hope that other companies can follow this as an example. 

PS: There was Oprah at the #AppleEvent so Apple is sooooo winning!

 

 

Working Towards Big Data Ethics

The use of big data has skyrocketed within recent years opening up new opportunities for traditional industries such as publishing. Through the use of data collection and the ever-evolving way it is gathered, publishers can now gain insights into which sections of digital books are popular with readers, how long it takes the reader to finish a book, and whether or not they do indeed finish it. These insights help publishers make strategic decisions on everything from the emotional content arc of a story, to finding the next blockbuster, and how to capture reader engagement. But like all things great, with big data comes big responsibility. Regardless of what information publishers find beneficial, I believe there should be strong governmental regulations which set the moral responsibility of publishers and create an ethical code to govern how data is collected and used. This extends beyond current personal data laws and requires policymakers to keep up to date with the latest data mining approaches.

Continue reading “Working Towards Big Data Ethics”

Digging for Gold: Reader Analytics and Data Mining in Manuscripts

As a publisher, if I had an all access pass to book data I would concentrate on my authors, their writing and my editorial team. I’m not talking about producing blockbuster after blockbuster, but simply having more hits than misses. Plus, only so many people read so many books a year which means the amount of blockbusters is finite. If I only wanted to be producing blockbusters then I’d be putting out two or three books a year, and somehow having a drastically reduced field of competition. No, I don’t need to sell a million copies of my author’s latest work (although that would be nice) but I do want to give their book the best possible chance to make it. How would I do this? By using reader analytics and data mining of course. Other publishers have already acknowledged the advantages.

A perfected Jellybooks would be my tool of choice. Being able to pin point where a reader struggles or stops reading would be beneficial for both the editor and the author to know. If the majority of readers are calling it quits after chapter three then some changes need to be made in the writing. My editor knows this book is a winner since the ending is spectacular, reflective, and thought-provoking, except no one is going to know that unless they get to the end! If the book lulls and you lose your audience (who is far less trained to recognize real talent and art, the je ne sais quoi of good writing than my editors and their gut) then it doesn’t matter how good the potential of the book is. Maybe all it will take is a little tweak to keep readers hooked.

Wouldn’t the authors have a problem with this? Sharing their precious baby before its ready for the cold world when it still needs some time to incubate with their editor. Yes, writers are sensitive and having their work picked apart by a bunch of strangers certainly doesn’t seem appealing and there are mixed opinions on beta reading. I would encourage them to reconsider, and to look at it as an investment in beta testing and although it may be painful it would at least give their book the best chance it could get before being released to the real cold world. Wouldn’t they appreciate a test-flop before a real flop? At least they have the time to go back and tweak their manuscript some more.

Plus, there are only six basic emotional arcs of storytelling and by data mining the manuscripts my editors would make sure that they keep on track with patterns readers are familiar with. Of course, this doesn’t mean the stories can’t break rules, and it’s possible to build complex arcs by using basic building blocks in sequence to create something unique. If my editors are able to catch a dip or spike in an already established arc, then it would be easier for them to hone in on the problem area and adjust it accordingly. Data mining manuscripts offers editors a map to the potential problem areas, and the chance to dig in and use their editorial training to adjust these segments. Generally, a good editor would be able to find these problem areas and lulls regardless, but an algorithm speeds up the process and allows for more time dedicated to workshopping the section.

Data mining manuscripts and using reader analytics isn’t about removing the human element from editorial work, quite the contrary. Reader analytics is studying human behaviour with reading, while data mining manuscripts is simply expediting the grunt work editors would have to go through regardless. Editors can use these tools to streamline the process they need to take with the manuscript and combine it with their gut instincts and human experience to allow a book to reach its full potential.

Data: My Preciou$

It is impossible to not feel diabolical if I, as a publisher, had access to any data.  I think I will have to encroach on personal privacy if I want to take vastly beneficial decisions for my publishing house.

Firstly, I would figure out geographical interest clusters in the country i.e. figuring out where lots of my target audience lives so I can arrange author tours, book signings, events, and launches nearby. I would consequently also know what time and days of the week they are in the mood to shop/attend events.

I would also, obviously, employ data analyzers to figure out trends in the market and ride those waves. One of the ways I would do that is to metadata my slush pile and pick out relevant manuscripts that can maneuver the trend waves, instead of killing my young, exhausted intern.

I have noticed that Netflix shows are a common conversation starter among young people with spending liberty. If we can understand the trends (excluding the unexpected booms of a new genre), I would like to have Netflix on board. If I can have access to their data, then I would collaborate with Netflix and create a TV series which are based on the series of books we are publishing (which would be a season ahead). That way, fans of the TV show would buy books produced by my publishing house, if they want to get ahead of the show and know what happens next before the next season.

I also think there is a lot of untapped international market. North American publishers tend to be hesitant circulating outside the continent. This is understandable since publishing is oft times a gamble even in the continent, but since I have access to all the data in the world, I can capitalize on this opportunity. I would purchase world media rights to books with themes that are “on-trend”. Following international markets are translations: with all the right data, I can translate the on-trend books, work with international retailers, libraries, and warehouses to place my books in the hands of people that really care about the subject matter.

Children’s books are a big seller and can be sold in different regions of the world since every parent loves the idea of a genius child(ren). There are numerous studies that can be used as awareness campaigns to encourage young parents to buy books for their children in any part of the world, with a reasonable literacy rate.

I am certain that as a publisher, I would have to invade privacy if it came at the cost of unlimited data: which is a great opportunity to take the book industry outside of North America.