Alexandria Online

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Print Prestige

At the end of my sabattical I wrote a feature-length article for a major educational publication hoping to wrap it all up before a large audience, get my name in print, impress my friends and colleagues and send a glossy copy of the issue to my mother. The editor wrote back with an even better idea: why not publish it as an electronic feature on the magazine's website? It was a good idea, but I was a bit crestfallen. Did my article not rate publication along with the rest of the pieces that were worth some ink and paper?

The question of online authority was hitting home. I felt that my work would not be as authoritative online as it would in print. But more than that, print seemed more prestigious to me.

I had just read this piece in the New York Times (online -- my wife read the same article in print and we both emailed it to each other at the same time) about scholars beginning to do peer review of articles online in a modified crowd-sourcing model. They use a hybrid model, where certain experts in the field are chosen to comment online about the piece (interestingly, without anonymity) and then it's thrown open for public comment. Authors have an opportunity to revise their work after reading the comments and then the work is either accepted for publication or rejected. The process goes lightning fast compared with the old, anonymous peer review system.

I realized I was clinging to old ways -- nostalgia for the table of contents showing my article with my name next to it, something to hold in your hand, something to mail in a manila envelope to my mother. On the contrary: publishing the piece online is exactly what should happen. I threw in one additional suggestion: that a pdf, beautifully designed by the publication's design team with all the attention to typography that would be given to print, be provided for print lovers so that they can download it and print it if they wish.

We should not have to give up paper for electrons. We can have it both ways. Any way you want. Blind people can download the file and translate it directly into braille.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Case of the Wrist Watch

Digital watches hit the retail scene when I was a kid. They were big and clunky with dark screens that only lit up when you pushed the button on the side and then the time was displayed in red numbers. People paid good money to be among the first to flaunt them.

The LCD watches were even better. You could read them at any time and didn't need to push a button. They were loaded with features.

Analog watches, with round dials and a big hand and short hand, are still what you see in most stores that sell watches. That's how people want to read the time.

How do people want to read books?

I was talking with a caolleague who is also very interested in the future of e-books and online educational materials. He was marveling at his i-Pad and the educational possibilities it afforded. I suggested that many people seem to prefer bound paper books still, even those that own or use e-readers. "Nostalgia" was his explanation for this preference; I countered with "aesthetics." He reasserted his position; I mine.

I don't think it's nostalgia that keeps analog watches under the glass counters in retails stores thirty years after the advent of the digital watch, and I think the same will be true of digital reading devices and bound paper books.