Florian Cramer on sober genealogies of the (un)bound dialectic

Posted: May 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm  |  By: gerlofdonga  |  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Geert Lovink introduced this title panel of the conference by mainframing its attempt at Nietzchean thinking around the binding and unbinding of the book - not in terms of ethics or morality, beyond the book as a sentimental object, and more in terms of the exploded situation of the present.

Researcher and theorist Florian Cramer, currently, Centre for Creative Professions at Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam, threw up a series of very concrete genealogical provocations. Cramer came to new media as a classically trained philologist, precisely through interest in the situation of electronic literature 20 years ago, the 91 launch of electronic book applications such as Voyager and so on. The Unbound Book's title panel evokes for him a troublingly "strong sense of deja vu". Considering all the experimentation with multimedia writing in the 80s and early 90s that happened before net art and multimedia design, and that has now "completely stagnated" in the hands of its same early agents, Cramer asked provocatively about the elided techno-cultural links here: what does the history of artistic experimentation (indeed early electronic or not) have to do with this apparent present (nostalgic? or ahistoric?) conversation around unboundedness?

Florian Cramer @ the unbound book conference

Florian Cramer @ the unbound book conference - photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg

David Stairs' Boundless (1983) provides an important theoretical reference point, being emblematic of the dialectic that Cramer emphasises is always at issue:

"Binding and unbinding exist in it in a fruitful paradox, a tension that nevertheless boils down to binding as the lowest common denominator of a book. A book, in other words, is almost anything bound together, or unbound in negative reference to the former. To be unbound, after all, does not mean to be boundless." Further, there are important spatial dimensions of being bound, alongside the temporal: bound "so that it doesn't fall apart", and bound in the sense of enduring coherently. For Cramer, "the idea of the book is one that can be read in 1, 5, and 100 years time." Exceptions presented by unstable books (citing here Dieter Roth and Jan Voss's work, available from Amsterdam's Bookie Woekie), only prove the rule. Yet this strong dialectical appreciation of bound/unbound "bookness" seems absent from the panel description which seems to incorrigibly describe the web rather than the book. If it were really a book, "links would be broken, social tags spammed, geo-location programming interfaces would have changed, the codecs for the video and sound … obsolete, and it wouldn't work on your screen in 2021 anyway."

Cramer's point is that this is exactly what happened with electronic literature 20 years ago, carrying itself on the "exact same slogans": "linking, multimedia, interactivity, networking." The Expanded Books series launched by Bob Stein's Voyager company, an apple-specific project inspired by the Powerbook in 91, is the near-same event as the ipad inspiring "unbound" literary experiments and ereading start-ups today. They are even 'unbinding' exactly the same texts! Noting the John Cage reference, Cramer sees that we're almost literally revisiting George Landow's hypertext media theory:

We must abandon conceptual systems founded upon ideas of centre, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them with ones of multi-linearity, modes, links, and networks. Almost all parties to this paradigm shift, which marks a revolution in human thought, see electronic writing as a direct response to the strengths and weaknesses of the printed book. (Landow, Hypertext, 1992).

Similar enthusiasm surrounded the audiovisual media/theory of the early 90s, but film and games have stayed separate for the most part, and "it's the same with books and the web." Of course ebook culture has emerged, but it is embodied instead by two "commercial and anti-commercial extremes, Amazon's Kindle e-book store and aaaarg.org… the text-cultural equivalent of iTunes and mp3 file sharing respectively." The actual historical passage of digital music and audio is strikingly similar to the present situation of the book: "people simply shared and collected simple audio files", just as we today sample "plain vanilla PDFs, ascii and epub files." So in fact the book's trajectory is: "premedieval scroll, bounded codex, computer file." Cramer predicts: "Hardly anyone will buy interactive mulitmedia books, just as they didn't in the 1990s." The book becomes merely solidified by the contrary nature of the web.

From a history of artistic experimentation around the book we can be sure of this, as Drucker's work shows.

Even in their most experimental and unstable forms, books do not leave beyond their material unity or binding. They are persistently "thought of as a whole… an entity, to be reckoned with in (their) entirety" (Drucker, 122). This is not a conservative statement, Cramer emphasies. Even classical examples of "unbound" literary books such as Marc Saporta's Composition no. 1, Raymond Queneau's One hundred thousand billion poems, indeed "explode the corpus," but do so by evoking it "ex negativo." The binding here becomes only more accentuated.

Its interesting at this point to observe that Drucker's definition of "artist books," the continuity of their experimentalism, coincides almost directly with present technical definitions of epublications. This is Drucker:

To remain artist's books, rather than book-like objects or sculptural works with a book reference to them, these works have to maintain a connection to the idea of the book, to its basic form and function as the presentation of material in relation to a fixed sequence which provides access to its contents (or ideas) through some stable arrangement. Such a definition stretches elastically to reach around books which are card stacks, books which are solid pieces of bound material, and other books whose nature defies easy characterisation.

Meanwhile Cramer adumbrates more recent epub specifications in the following way:

Epublications are not limited to linear content… but the basic assumption is there is an order that is not achievable through html alone. A key concept of epublication is as multiple resources that may be consumed in a specific order. They are in essence offline media, self-contained documents with downloading features.

From this point of coincidence though, the technical, political, and aesthetic possibilities of epub experimentation is much more difficult than what the present discourses of unboundedness suggest. Cramer gives the example of the Boem Paukeslag project produced at Piet Zwarte, an effort to publish a visual poem as animation on an ereader, using entirely non-standardized code. This was only possible through extreme amounts of crude technical hacking, with the result restricted to reading on this single hacked device. The gesture of the work is this exercise of difficult possibility in the era of ereading.

Cramer ended by ruminating on the increased interest in and mainstreaming of artist books today, as a "genre of graphic design." Print itself here seems to be becoming a "boutique niche of materiality." This is its entropy: "all print books strive to become coffee table books, often with warm, fuzzy and unbound characteristics". The artist book becomes a real or auratic object, and tech art schools become implicated in "producing boutique collectiables for rich people," not unlike vinyl collection. The image of the young Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby, enamoured by the great library at the houseparty of the Long Island bourgoise, and picking up up a book from a shelf only to realise that not one on the shelf had been read, seems to resonate even more strongly in the present. Electronic books in contrast are the cheap paperback books of our time, for better and for worse.

PDF of presentation available here: Unbound Book.

Gerlof Donga: Digitaal studeren 2011

Posted: May 23, 2011 at 2:52 pm  |  By: gerlofdonga  |  Tags: , , ,

A short synopsis in English of Gerlof Donga’s presentation ‘Digital studying 2011’.

Gerlof Donga, research coordinator usability for Amsterdam E-boekenstad, started the workshop E-readers in Dutch Education with a presentation about digital studying. He explained that research should be done to investigate how e-readers can be used in education. Gerlof started the presentation with explaining the difference between reading for entertainment and reading for information assessment. The investigation as to whether e-readers are suitable for studying has yet to be determined. In order to understand information, people actively use the text. The e-reader should support the different reading strategies. E-boekenstad is working on two research initiatives to investigate whether e-readers can support the different reading strategies. One research initiative is executed in cooperation with Microsoft to test the e-reading platform Yindo. The other research venture is in cooperation with Paerson to test the eText viewer. Gerlof ends his presentation by saying that research must be done with both students and lecturers, because lecturers are the driving force behind the implementation of e-readers in education.

Gerlof Donga @ the unbound book conference – photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg

Gerlof Donga, Onderzoekslijncoördinator usability en docent onderzoeker binnen het project Amsterdam E-boekenstad, begon de workshop E-readers in Dutch Education met een presentatie over digitaal studeren. Hij legde uit dat digitaal lezen nu pas echt gaat doorbreken. De vraag is nu hoe boeken moeten worden uitgeleverd: offline op de e-reader of op internet via een portal? Veel boeken worden via een online portal aangeboden. Gerlof vertelde: “2011 is the year of the tablet wars.” We gaan nu pas uitvinden wat e-readers gaan betekenen nu we de hype voorbij zijn. In de nabije toekomst komen we erachter wie de leiding krijgt op e-reading gebied. Gerlof vertelt dat het interessant is om te onderzoeken hoe studenten hun iPad gebruiken. De studenten gebruiken hun iPad voornamelijk voor gaming, video en muziek. Hij merkt op dat er op het moment weinig apps zijn voor informatie verwerking of voor lezen.

Gerlof vervolgde de presentatie met het uitleggen van het onderscheid tussen lezen voor ontspanning en het lezen om informatie te verwerken. Het lezen voor ontspanning is het hype gedeelte van e-reading en heeft een hoge vlucht genomen. Teksten die bedoelt zijn voor informatie verwerking worden ook elektronisch aangeboden, deze teksten worden echter afgedrukt om te lezen. Om studeren mogelijk te maken op een e-reader moet eerst worden vastgesteld hoe men leest om informatie te verwerken. Om informatie te begrijpen moet je actief bezig zijn met de stof en je moet van gedachte kunnen wisselen met anderen. De e-reader moet alle verschillende leesstrategieën ondersteunen: oriënterend lezen, globaal lezen, intensief lezen, kritisch lezen, studerend lezen en zoekend/doelgericht lezen.

Oriënterend lezen: de lezer moet kunnen bepalen of de tekst bruikbaar is. Dit wordt op het moment niet ondersteunt door de portals. De portals geven niet duidelijk weer wat elk boek behandelt.
Globaal lezen: de tekst skimmen, de lezer moet snel de hoofdzaken kunnen zoeken in een tekst. Ook deze fuctie wordy niet goed ondersteund. Zover de functie snel bladeren aanwezig is bij E-inkt readers werkt het maar beperkt.
Intensief lezen: de tekst kunnen begrijpen is mogelijk bij gebruik van een e-reader.
Kritisch lezen: bepalen of een tekst betrouwbaar is wordt niet ondersteund door de portals.
Studerend lezen: de tekstinhoud verwerken en onthouden. De ondersteuning van studerend lezen hangt af van de e-reader. Sommige portals hebben moeite met het weergeven van een snippet van informatie.
Zoekend / doelgericht lezen: Interactie met de tekst en nadenken over de tekst. Sommige e-readers ondersteunen navigatie door de tekst.

E-readers moeten al deze stappen kunnen ondersteunen. Gerlof legt uit dat ze dit willen onderzoeken. Kunnen deze leesstrategieën losgelaten worden op de portals? Hebben deze portals een meerwaarde? Gerlof vertelt dat E-boekenstad bezig is met twee onderzoeken. Het Yindo onderzoek in samenwerking met Microsoft is al gestart. Dit is een onderzoek waar 20 studenten aan meedoen om de usability aspecten van het e-readingplatform Yindo te onderzoeken. In het andere onderzoek, dat momenteel in voorbereiding is, wordt de eText viewer onderzocht in samenwerking met Paerson. Aan dit onderzoek gaan ook 20 studenten meedoen.

Gerlof legt uit dat studenten het niet erg vinden om te lezen van een scherm omdat ze daar gewend aan zijn. Waar studenten wel moeite mee hebben is navigatie want op het moment biedt papier veel betere navigatie. Gerlof vertelt wat belangrijke wensen voor e-readers zijn. Echter veel wensen zijn op het moment nog niet of slecht mogelijk bij de verschillende e-readers. Een van de wensen is usability van e-readers omdat het belangrijk is om te bepalen waar de lezer is in de tekst. Lezers willen vooruit en achteruit kunnen in een tekst. Ze willen kunnen bladeren naar een bepaalde paragraaf of hoofdstuk. Bij veel e-readers kun je hiervoor de index gebruiken, via een zoekopdracht. Maar de indexen van de meeste digitale boeken bieden weinig interactie. Gerlof legt uit dat de Mobipocket bijvoorbeeld weer bladzijdennummering toevoegt. Bij veel e-redeaders is het moeilijk om vooruit te gaan in een tekst of naar een bepaald hoofdstuk te gaan. Actief bezig zijn met een tekst wordt slecht ondersteunt zoals markeren, gebruik van bladwijzers, ezelsoren en annoteren. Bij een digitaal boek wil je kunnen aangeven waarom je een bladwijzer hebt gemaakt. De mogelijkheid van annotatie wordt door Amazon opgelost met een toetsenbord, ook een virtueel toetsenbord is mogelijk. Je wilt ook dat de annotatie zichtbaar wordt wanneer je de tekst deelt met anderen. Een andere wens is meta-annotatie, dit maakt het mogelijk om na te gaan op welk tijdstip een annotatie geplaatsts is en hoeveel er van een boek is gelezen en hoe vaak. Ook een woordenboek moet aanwezig zijn en internet toegang. E-readers moeten ook audio ondersteunen, zodat de lezer de stof ook auditief tot zich kan nemen.

Gerlof eindigde de presentatie met de mogelijkheden voor vervolg onderzoek. Onderzoek moet worden gedaan onder zowel studenten als docenten. De docenten zijn de drijvende kracht omdat als zij tegen studenten zeggen dat ze een bepaalde e-reader moeten gebruiken dit ook echt gebeurd. Voor het onderzoek moeten de studenten langdurig testen in hun thuis omgeving.

Voor meer informatie:


Klik hier voor het artikel uit de Havana over de workshop 'E-readers in Dutch Education':


Anne Mangen on the Technologies and Haptics of Reading

Posted: May 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm  |  By: gerlofdonga  |  Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

'The Ascent of E-readers', the third session of the day, kicked off with Anne Mangen, Ph.D., an Associate professor in literacy and reading research and a reading specialist at The Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger in Norway. Her research interests mainly lie in the impact of digital technology on reading, writing and pedagogical methods. She is particularly concerned with cross-disciplinary approaches to reading, writing and comprehension, focusing on multisensory, embodied aspects.

Anne Mangen @ The Unbound Book Conference photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg

Anne is primarily concerned with questioning the role of haptics in the reading experience and whether the use of hands engages the brain in ways that play a constitutive role in the reading process; what DOES the clicking do or add to the reading experience?She is particularly interested in evaluating and theorizing the impact that physical and technological affordances have on the phenomenological experience of immersion in narrative storyworlds and longer linear texts, as compared with reading a narrative by leafing through pages of a book. At the heart of her passionate talk are questions of what these physical/technological affordances do with the reading process cognitively, phenomenologically and perceptually, and how we experience a text differently when we handle it with an e-reader, mouse and screen as compared with the print medium. The talk reflects on these questions and related concerns using findings that address different aspects of reading from a host of empirical studies she surveys (though a large portion of findings range from a time before the experience of the digital reading and writing landscape substantially evolved to what it is today).

An Embodied Process
By investigating the role of gestures of readers and the way they use their hands for interacting, pointing, directing and sustaining attention, new media is also changing the role of the hands. For Anne, what is evolving as a fascinating, interesting and relevant paradigm for studying reading (and how reading changes with digitization of text), is the paradigm of embodied cognition - a cross-disciplinary paradigm evolving from psychology, evolutionary anthropology, neuroscience, and a wide-range of social sciences. She elaborates how it's important to see and be aware of how reading is an embodied process and activity by observing and identifying the way we use our hands differently with digital devices -- the way we click, read, handle or touch screen, and write – and what affordances and impacts this has on reading. In this way, sensory processes play crucial roles, particularly for pedagogy and reading instruction.

Referring to a study on the use of hands in shaping the brain, language, and human culture, Anne discusses findings that show how the human hand and brain became an integrated system for perception, cognition and action through a process of co-evolution. Thus, what we think of as human intelligence becomes embedded in the hand just as it is in the brain.

Redefining Reading
With all the talk about redefining the book -- bound and unbound – Anne wants to shift the conversation to redefine reading, and to highlight those perspectives of reading as a skill and process that haven't been duly dealt with, in her opinion, as becoming both apparent and important. She reminds us that reading is multisensory (not only visual) and is embodied (not only cognitively).

The Ergonomics of Reading
'Reading digitally also changes the ergonomic affordances provided by the interface, since a book on the computer or e-book "invites" us to do something different with it than a printed book, and so reading by clicking with the computer mouse versus turning the pages of a book changes our perception and impacts reading directly.' Various reading devices – an e-reader, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, etc. -- by way of their affordances, all invite us to do different things with our hands. Anne describes how this subsequently affects our perceptual processes and sensorimotor actions, and thus influences reading processes, comprehension processes, aesthetic experiences, and by implication then, reading.'

As an embodied cognition, ergonomics of reading devices become crucial to understand how reading is changing, for better or worse.

Print vs. Digital Reading Technologies
Anne then reflects on the fundamental differences between print & digital sensorimotor affordances. ‘Whereas print is tangible, fixed and imprinted on a physical substrate, digital is intangible, with the content and storage medium separated, and with a temporary visible display that is unstable; elements that could play a crucial role for children when they are beginning to learn how to read. In this way different relationships emerge between something that is printed and something that is digital, and it becomes necessary to ask how the intangibility of the text impacts reading on different levels, different kinds of text, and for different reading purposes.

The Multifunctionality of the Digital or the Physical Structure of Print?
The multifunctional character inherent to digital text on digital devices is that it has no status of external memory, Anne
points out. You cannot point to the iPad or Kindle to prompt its memory of where you read something - it contains thousands of additional materials. Conversely, in a printed book you can tell from the spine or cover, which serves as an eternal aid to memory. This role of intangibility leads Anne to further stress the role of body in perception and the phenomenology of the intangible. The emergent claim is that the nature of the digital technology has implications for our sensorimotor, perceptual and cognitive processes and experience of reading and comprehension for certain lengths of text. This is in part because the reconstruction of text is not only based on content, gist, meaning and story, but on the composition, layout and physical structure of a text.

Anne then shifts to hypertext and presents findings from empirical research selected over the course of the last two decades. Some claims that emerge from these studies:

  • despite the ubiquity of hypertext people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read hypertext
  • writing in word processors interferes with the ability of the writer to form a sufficient mental representation (global perspective) of the text. (Eklundh 1992)
  • scrolling disrupts the user’s sense of physical structure and consequently disrupts their ability to form a global perspective of the text (Eklundh 1992; Piolat et al. 1997)
  • spatial mental representations of text are known to be useful for reading comprehension (Piolat et al. 1997)

Sense of Text.
Jumping from digital hypertext, Anne argues that a physical sense of the text becomes important to the way we mentally reconstruct the text as an entity, as something in a certain pattern or way. Spatial mental representation of text based on layout is known to be useful for reading comprehension, and this can be understood by the affordances of paper, which allow tactile clues to sense with your fingers the progress of a book, or to layer papers, for example.

To conclude, Anne reemphasizes the aspects of haptic affordances, insisting that the most lasting reading technology has been one we can comfortably hold in our hands, where the human hand-eye coordination is taken into consideration in optimal ways. Though people are increasingly willing to read periodicals in digital format, Anne points out that the experience of reading [intangible] text is different, less efficient and less focused. In the end, for her, materiality of reading matters, and is one of the key differences between reading print and digital – a distinctive aspect of new reading technologies she claims will have a huge impact on the way people learn how to read and comprehend.

For more, visit the Reading Centre of the University of Stavanger in Norway.

PDF of Anne Mangen's presentation available here: Mangen Presentation.