myth: physical books promote deep learning

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6 Responses

  1. Eli Resnick says:

    That last line pretty much says it all. Of course they’re claiming power. The conference is sponsored by The New York Times, an organization of critical thinkers and writers whose entire credibility has been commercially condensed for centuries into a logo printed on paper. They have tried to transfer that power into digital spaces with, so far, limited successes.

    Therefore, as a corporation with a legal obligation to maximize shareholder value, it is incumbent upon The Times to fight back against the forces that corrode its present profitability. By profesorially pretending to argue the superiority of printed books over ebooks and not the superiority of printed newspapers over blogs, while still placing their name at the top, The Times softens the edges of a Sunday subscription sales-pitch into the apparently innocuous and therefore credible realm of academia.

    Of course, printed media, with its higher production costs and consequent tendency toward improved editorial mediation, maintains a level of innate authority–or at least a level of innate plausibility–that digital sources have to build on a case-by-case basis. How many arguments end decisively with, “of course it’s true; I read it on the internet!”?

    The sales pitch is effective because it starts with a number of truths and expands from there. But it fails as science because it is not intended to serve as such, and the conference had to be governed, from the selection of participants down to the planning of every detail, by the economic realities of a print-behemoth grasping at straws. Did they invite, for instance, Steve Jobs? This is corporate pastoralism.

    Still, it’s brave, at least, to support the utility and dependability of digital information sources with four links to something as mutable, inauthoritative and continually politically manipulated as Wikipedia–an idealistic project which so far illustrates little better the failure of anarchy to produce any meaningful equality as an organizational structure within a prevailing capitalist culture.

    Lastly, this was a good blog post. It almost motivated me to read the New York Times article it links to. But my eyes are getting tired of staring at this screen. I think I’ll go drive around for a while, instead.

  2. Paul Erb says:

    On the cui bono question, a “construction-of-reality” approach answers, “those whose pay will dissipate if books do.” This would include non-academic property-rights stakeholders who find that (pace Derrida) the bounded book is present as property is present, in the eyes of the law. Possession is 9/10ths, etc. So not only professors in traditional practice, but also donors and grantmakers who like ringfencing because it makes control both clearer and more satisfying. All of this is for the sake of projecting a probable and desirable outcome: professor gets promotion, donor gets recognition, grantmaker gets more funding. Books, being discrete, favor this control-theory thinking (as does your own inclination to use the predictive “will.”.

    Complexity and fluid dynamics, on the other hand, tend not to reflect the control values. And digitized texts and other media reinforce fluid and diffusive thinking, as distinct from Kirschenbaum’s preferred “depth,” which implies, it seems to me, control and stability rather than fluidity or (even) thoroughness. Traditional humanities practices can tolerate database–that feels like steel framework, especially if it’s traditionally modeled. But add algorithm, and the books don’t stand still on the shelves.

  3. Keri says:

    Great analysis of power and the construction and/or acquisition of knowledge.


  4. amanda says:

    While I don’t think digital media is trivial, I think there are many problems with the medium that directly impacts its credibility. First, any book one purchases on an electronic device is not entirely owned. Leasing would be a better descriptor. When you purchase a “book” you have no property, no tangible object in which you own. The publishers reserve the right to remove any literature you have purchased from them. Basically, when you connect your device, they erase whichever book they like without notice. In all fairness, they do refund your money. But this is besides the point. That would be like the manager at barnes and noble comming into your home, stealing back the book, and leaving cash on your dresser.
    Furthermore, print is unchangable. It is fact, because once it is commited to paper, it exists. Digital media is so fluid that an arguement can be made that it is not really in existance, but rather it’s simply an idea or an opinion, subject to almost instantaneous change. Now to be clear, I’m not saying digital media doesn’t contain facts, but rather the media itself is an illusion. No credibility can be given to something that is in and of itself an illusion.
    This ability to change the “reality” of these documents destroys any credibility they could have. Just look to wikipedia as an example of this. I can change the media to hold with a crazy idea, lets say that dinosaurs never went extinct. People would then read this, some accepting it as fact. I could then change it back when confronted by my decieit and claim I never said such things. No one would be able to prove it because the media is not tangable. Trying to distribute digital media as a harbringer of cold, hard facts is crazy.
    I think digital media can be used in many cases, because it’s undeniably easier and more effient. But this does not speak to the integrity of the information. Certain things need to be tangible. Books used for teaching need to be one of them.

  1. 22nd June 2011

    […] noted in the past this trend to endow the physical with a special importance. I commented on the bias to view physical books as more “deep” than digital text. I also critiqued those who label digital activism “slacktivism” and those who view digital […]

  2. 30th July 2011

    […] cette tendance à attacher une importance spéciale à la matérialité. J’ai commenté le biais qui pousse à considérer les livres imprimés comme plus « profonds » que le texte numérique. J’ai aussi critiqué ceux qui qualifient […]

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