How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

Books as objects of desire: photographs by Jennifer Cownie.

Excerpt from this article:

Here are some things that you can’t do with a Kindle. You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine (brutal, but sometimes pleasurable) or flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. You often can’t remember much at all. You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end equals 93% followed by 7% of index and/or questions for book clubs. You can’t pass it on to a friend or post it through your neighbour’s door…

Another thing that has happened is that books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty. They are coveted in their own right, while ebooks, which are not things of beauty, have become more expensive; a new digital fiction release is often only a pound or two cheaper than a hardback. “Part of the positive pressure that digital has exerted on the industry is that publishers have rediscovered their love of the physical,”

The Perils of Peak Attention

Excerpt from this article:

Two new books assess the quality of our digital lives: How do we shake off the village when we carry the world in our pocket?

Early on in The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu’s startling and sweeping examination of the increasingly ubiquitous commercial effort to capture and commodify our attention, we are presented with a sort of cognitive paradox: To pay attention to one thing we need to screen other things out. But that very “capacity to ignore,” as Wu puts it, “is limited by another fact: We are always paying attention to something.” It is these “in between” moments, when our attention may be about to shift from one thing to another, that the attention merchants have long sought to colonize—in everything from nineteenth-century Parisian street posters to the twenty-first century’s “long flight of ad-laden clickbaited fancy.”

… We are these days, suggests Laurence Scott in his pensive, provocative book, The Four-Dimensional Human, “inhabiting space in a way that could be called four-dimensional.” The lines between the physical and online—still so robust when getting on AOL for one’s five hours a month meant an aching process of dialing up a working local access number via a creaking modem—have been virtually erased. We no longer “surf” the internet, Scott notes, because we are always already submerged by the waves.

One of the implications here is that it is not only looking at the screen that consumes our attention, as in the old days, for the screen has changed the way we look at the world. It is the way we think of Twitter excerpts as we read an article, or pre-frame the world in Instagram-worthy moments—as Scott notes, our phones “consume” concerts and dinner before we do, while “the real, biologically up-to-the-minute ‘me’ thus becomes a ghost of my online self.” It is our strange view, intimate yet indirect, of people’s Potemkin collages on Facebook—“a place of full-frontal glimpses, where we encounter the periphery head on,” writes Scott. It is the way we worry offline about what has happened online (Did my post get any likes?), and how what is online can cause us to worry about what is happening offline. A friend recently told me how his teenage daughter had not been invited to the weekend gathering of a few of her friends. At one time, the snub, hurtful though it may have been, would have been encountered only on Monday morning (You guys did what?); now, however, she watched her friends’ weekend unfold on Instagram, a live crawl of social anxiety.

 

Two steps forward, one back

This article in The Economist offers a review of two new books, including “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.” by Nancy Jo Sales. Here is an excerpt:

For many girls, the constant seeking of “likes” and attention on social media can “feel like being a contestant in a never-ending beauty pageant”, writes Nancy Jo Sales in “American Girls”, a thoroughly researched if sprawling book. In this image-saturated environment, comments on girls’ photos tend to focus disproportionately on looks, bullying is common and anxieties about female rivals are rife. In interviews, girls complain of how hard it is to appear “hot” but not “slutty”, sexually confident but not “thirsty” (ie, desperate). That young women often aspire to be titillating should not be surprising given that the most successful female celebrities often present themselves as eye-candy for the male gaze. “Everybody wants to take a selfie as good as the Kardashians’,” says Maggie, a 13-year-old.

Such self-objectification comes at a cost. A review of studies from 12 industrialised countries found that adolescent girls around the world are increasingly depressed and anxious about their weight and appearance.

Top 10 books about the dangers of the web

Excerpt from this article, which offers a comprehensive reading list:

I’ve read a lot on shaming, revenge and involuntary pornography and the darknet… So here are my top 10 books on the dangers of the web:

1. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson…

2. The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett: After reading this absorbing, fantastic book, I understand more about what the darknet is, and am therefore a little less terrified of it…

3. Cybersexism by Laurie Penny…

4. The Intrusions by Stav Sharez: It surprises me that Sharez is one of few current crime writers to give the online world a significant role in his story…

5. Follow Me by Angela Clarke… It features a baddie, dubbed the Hashtag Murderer, who taunts police by posting clues on Twitter…

6. In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behaviour by Patrick J Carnes, David L Demonico, Elizabeth Griffin and Joseph M Moriarty…

7. Cyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security and the Internet by Edward Lucas…

8. Butter, by Erin Lange: Dark, sad, but also funny, Lange tells the story of 400lb “Butter” who decides to go out with a bang. On New Year’s Eve, he will select a menu and eat himself to death live online. Disturbing, outstanding.

9. Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, by David Leigh and Luke Harding…

10. Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age, by Nev Schulman: Nev Schulman of Catfish fame takes his expertise and concerns about online relationships to the page, offering advice and warnings to his fans.

 

How This Tokyo Bookstore Made Me Fall Back In Love With Print

Excerpt from this article:

The longer I spent roaming the stacks, the more I became convinced that this store holds the key to understanding that deeper connection. I also felt like I was falling back in love with the printed word myself, which came as something of a shock — I’m a self-confessed, early-adopting, SIM card-swapping travel geek, currently on my seventh Kindle. This was not a nostalgic, Luddite moment, but a response to five specific principles that became increasingly clear to me as I wandered, browsed, read, and reflected.

Thinking of the store as a whole, and the way in which volumes of all kinds are beautifully displayed throughout, made me realize something else I’d been missing. The spine and cover designs of books, which used to be the predominant decoration of most of my friends’ apartments, offer a different kind of solace than that which comes from knowing that everything you’ve read lives somewhere in the cloud. Covers and spines are not just decorative items; they are external, tangible reminders of something that may have transformed you internally, emotionally, intellectually. To be able to call them up on your iPad simply isn’t the same as having them surround you — constantly reminding you, when you glimpse them, of the multitudes contained within each one.

The interaction reminded me of the extent to which, in doing research either for fun or for work, I’ve moved from seeking human guidance to doing all the digging myself, online. Obviously there are huge advantages to the powerful digital tools now at our disposal. But speaking with Tsutaya’s expert reminded me just how important — and enjoyable — it is to add a human perspective. He made connections between ideas I mentioned and stories he’d read in older periodicals (which the store still stocked).

 

On the Declining eBook Reading Experience

eBooks

Excerpt from this article (thought this was a good one, as a big advocate of real books):

When reports came out last month about declining ebook sales, many reasons were offered up, from higher pricing to the resurgence of bookstores to more efficient distribution of paper books to increased competition from TV’s continued renaissance, Facebook, Snapchat, and an embarrassment of #longread riches. What I didn’t hear a whole lot about was how the experience of reading ebooks and paper books compared, particularly in regard to the Kindle’s frustrating reading experience not living up to its promise. What if people are reading fewer ebooks because the user experience of ebook reading isn’t great?

Luckily, Craig Mod has stepped into this gap with a piece asking why digital books have stopped evolving. As Mod notes, paper books still beat out digital ones in many ways and the industry (i.e. Amazon) hasn’t made much progress in addressing them.

In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print

Excerpt from this article:

After the will reading, my older sister sweetly offered to share my mother’s library. I gratefully accepted. And then a few weeks later, while my younger sister was going through our mother’s personal belongings, she came across something she thought I might like.

I stared at the message and thought about the irony of the endless debates I had with my mother. Now that she was gone, all I cared about were her physical books.

Yes, as a technology columnist, I have become acutely aware of technology’s built-in expiration date. Kindles, iPhones and those new smartwatches are designed to become outdated, and quickly. Technology is about the future, not the past.

When I got rid of my CDs for an iPod, I never looked back. As VHS tapes turned to DVDs and later streaming services, I didn’t think twice about the lost physical objects — rather, I rejoiced in their disappearance.

But books, I now understand, are entirely different.