mfioretti: books*

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  1. Last year, I read four books.

    The reasons for that low number are, I guess, the same as your reasons for reading fewer books than you think you should have read last year: I’ve been finding it harder and harder to concentrate on words, sentences, paragraphs. Let alone chapters. Chapters often have page after page of paragraphs. It just seems such an awful lot of words to concentrate on, on their own, without something else happening. And once you’ve finished one chapter, you have to get through another one. And usually a whole bunch more, before you can say finished, and get to the next. The next book. The next thing. The next possibility. Next next next.

    I’ve dedicated my life one way or another to books, I believe in them, yet, I wasn’t able to read them.

    I’m not alone.

    At work, my concentration is constantly broken: finishing writing an article (this one, actually), answering that client’s request, reviewing and commenting on the new designs, cleaning up the copy on the About page. Contacting so and so. Taxes.

    All these tasks critical to my livelihood, get bumped more often than I should admit by a quick look at Twitter (for work), or Facebook (also for work), or an article about Mandelbrot sets (which, just this minute, I read).

    Email, of course, is the worst, because email is where work happens, and even if it’s not the work you should be doing right now it may well be work that’s easier to do than what you are doing now, and that means somehow you end up doing that work instead of whatever you are supposed to be working on now. And only then do you get back to what you should have been focusing on all along.

    It turns out that digital devices and software are finely tuned to train us to pay attention to them, no matter what else we should be doing. The mechanism, borne out by recent neuroscience studies, is something like this:

    New information creates a rush of dopamine to the brain, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good.
    The promise of new information compels your brain to seek out that dopamine rush.

    With fMRIs, you can see the brain’s pleasure centres light up with activity when new emails arrive.

    So, every new email you get gives you a little flood of dopamine. Every little flood of dopamine reinforces your brain’s memory that checking email gives a flood of dopamine. And our brains are programmed to seek out things that will give us little floods of dopamine. Further, these patterns of behaviour start creating neural pathways, so that they become unconscious habits: Work on something important, brain itch, check email, dopamine, refresh, dopamine, check Twitter, dopamine, back to work. Over and over, and each time the habit becomes more ingrained in the actual structures of our brains.

    Books, in ways that are different to visual art, to music, to radio, to love even, force us to walk through another’s thoughts, one word at a time, over hours and days. We share our minds for that time with the writer’s. There is a slowness, a forced reflection required by the medium that is unique. Books recreate someone else’s thoughts inside our own minds, and maybe it is this one-to-one mapping of someone else’s words, on their own, without external stimuli, that give books their power. Books force us to let someone else’s thoughts inhabit our minds completely.

    Books are not just transferrers of knowledge and emotion, but a special kind of tool that flattens one self into another, that enable the trying-on of foreign ideas and emotions.

    Books are not just transferrers of knowledge and emotion, but a special kind of tool that flattens one self into another, that enable the trying-on of foreign ideas and emotions.

    This suppressing of the self is a kind of meditation too — and while books have always been important to me on their own (pre-digital) merits, it started to occur to me that “learning how to read books again,” might also be a way to start weaning my mind away from this dopamine-soaked digital detritus, this meaningless wash of digital information, which would have a double benefit: I would be reading books again, and I would get my mind back.

    And, there are, often, beautiful universes to be found on the other side of the cover of a book.
    The problems with digital stuff

    Recent neuroscience confirms many of the things we sufferers of digital overload know innately. That successful multi-tasking is a myth. Multi-tasking makes us stupider. According to psychologist Glenn Wilson, the cognitive losses from multitasking are equivalent to smoking pot.

    go straight to bed and start reading a book — usually on an eink ereader (it turns out, easy)

    The shocking thing was how quickly my mind adapted to accommodate reading books again.
    Voting 0
  2. he fundamental uselessness of book publishers is why I thought it was dumb of the Department of Justice to even bother prosecuting them for their flagrantly illegal cartel behavior a couple of years back, and it's why I'm deaf to the argument that Amazon's ongoing efforts to crush Hachette are evidence of a public policy problem that needs remedy. Franklin Foer's recent efforts to label Amazon a monopolist are unconvincing, and Paul Krugman's narrower argument that they have some form of monopsony power in the book industry is equally wrongheaded.

    What is indisputably true is that Amazon is on track to destroy the businesses of incumbent book publishers. But the many authors and intellectuals who've been convinced that their interests — or the interests of literary culture writ large — are identical with those of the publishers are simply mistaken.
    Books are published by giant conglomerates

    The CEO of Simon & Schuster's parent company earned $67 billion last year (David Shankbone)

    The CEO of Simon & Schuster's parent company earned $67 million in 2013 (David Shankbone)

    Wisdom on this subject begins with the observation that the book publishing industry is not a cuddly craft affair. It's dominated by a Big Four of publishers, who are themselves subsidiaries of much larger conglomerates. Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, Penguin and RandomHouse are jointly owned by Pearson and Bertelsmann, and Hachette is part of an enormous French company called Lagadère.

    In his column, Krugman compares Amazon's large market share to Standard Oil's. But books aren't undifferentiated commodities the way oil is. If you want to buy Paul Krugman's new book, then you can't just substitute some other book. Hachette, however, seems (appropriately) to have almost no confidence in its own ability to market books.

    The real risk for publishers is that major authors might discover that they do have the ability to market books. When George RR Martin's next iteration of the Game of Thrones series is released, I will buy it. If I can buy it as an Amazon Kindle book, I will buy it that way. If he decides that the only way people should be able to read the book is to get Powell's to mail them a copy, then I will buy it that way. And I am not alone. Nor is Martin the only author with the clout to not worry about the terms of distribution.

    But for a publisher to team up with a celebrity author in this way to bypass Amazon would merely reveal how easy it would be for a celebrity author to bypass the incumbent publishers. In the old days, even the most famous author would need a publishing partner to actually make the physical books. Today that's not the case. Martin needs a software platform to sell books, but publishers don't have one. He could easily hire one or more editors to work with him on the copy if he wants to.
    Voting 0
  3. according to cognitive neuroscientists, humans seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online at the expense of traditional deep reading circuitry... Maryanne Wolf, one of the world's foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the Web and hundreds of e-mails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse's challenging novel The Glass Bead Game. 'I'm not kidding: I couldn't do it,' says Wolf. 'It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn't force myself to slow down so that I wasn't skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.'

    The brain was not designed for reading and there are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision. ... Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. ... Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade our ability to deal with other mediums. 'We're spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,' says Andrew Dillon."
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  4. BiblioTech is an all-digital public library on the south side of San Antonio that offers 10,000 titles on 600 e-readers, 25 iPads, and 25 laptops. The library also includes 50 desktop computers and 100 Nook tablets preloaded with children’s books — just no physical books. (Patrons can read the library’s digital books on their own tablets as well.) Internet access and kids’ storytime are other, more familiar perks.

    According to Ted Genoways’ oft-cited article “The Price of the Paperless Revolution,” it takes roughly the same amount of energy and materials to make an e-reader as it does 50 books. So for BiblioTech to break even, energy-wise, patrons would need to read 50 books on each tablet. With 10,000 library users registered in its first three months, this probably won’t be an issue.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-01-08)
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  5. In 2008, the British Library, in partnership with Microsoft, embarked on a project to digitize thousands of out-of-copyright books from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Included within those books were maps, diagrams, illustrations, photographs, and more. The Library has uploaded more than a million of them onto Flickr and released them into the public domain. It's now asking for help.

    Though the library knows which book each image is taken from, its knowledge largely ends there. While some images have useful titles, many do not, so the majority of the million picture collection is uncatalogued, its subject matter unknown.

    Next year, it plans to launch a crowdsourced application to fill the gap, to enable humans to describe the images. This information will then be used to train an automated classifier that will be run against the entire corpus.
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  6. The book wants to be liberated. Information does indeed want to be free, but not in the monetary sense (I don’t mind paying Apple or Amazon or Google their requisite fees). We live in a multimedia land and our books wish to reflect that as well. So instead of merely left to right text with three or four type fonts (Times Roman, Garamond, and Palatino Linotype being standard), we can have thousands of unique signature types augmented with interactive displays, streaming films, gaming tools, discussion boards, and the entire Oxford English Dictionary at our disposal with just a swipe of our hand.

    Lest we forget, books are a particular repository of information and tying such wisdom to one form and one form only (acting as if its early genealogy somehow grants it pride and privilege of place) is to neglect the real project at hand which is that we wish to gain knowledge and wisdom.

    Perhaps the book is finally morphing into its higher potential, something which was previewed in early manifestations but never fully realized because it took too long to actualize. The book was a precursor to hypertext with its notes, bibliography, and index. But how can one really follow a note if what was referenced resided in a library 30 miles away? Or, how can one justifiably cross-reference a source if such is missing from one’s personal library? The book of the future, the book that we are now getting glimpses of on Apple’s iPad, is hypertext fully realized. Text, all text, all images, all sounds, all films, all games, all interactivity, at the speed of light and in the palm of our hands and in our visual and auditory fields. The book needs to be liberated from its material corpus and fly, fly unencumbered, at the speed of electrons.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2013-06-25)
    Voting 0
  7. We are a community of people crazy enough to build our own book scanners. We also write Free software for book scanning. We are the missing link between your bookshelf and your e-reader. Join us! Get involved by trying a simple scanner, or push the limits of scanning technology.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2013-01-29)
    Voting 0
  8. This treaty would be the first one that is not done for the copyright owner, but for the user of the works — for the blind to make a copyrighted work accessible.”

    Opposition to the treaty has come from both European and American companies. These companies range from major software makers and book publishers to motion picture and music companies. The Association of American Publishers, which represents about 300 publishers, claims the treaty is unnecessary. They want VIPs to rely on the free market, where the profit motive will provide an incentive for publishers to make such products available.

    But industry’s objections have little to do with lost profits; the market is relatively small. Their real concern is that this treaty creates a dangerous precedent where international copyright laws could be relaxed in other cases where a clear public interest exists. Brad Huber, senior director of the US Chamber of Commerce, states, “The treaty … creates a bad precedent by loosening copyright restrictions, instead of tightening them as every previous copyright treaty has done.”
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  9. Fortunately for those of us who believe otherwise, Andrew Piper has visited Slate to set us all back on the path of touchable righteousness. In a lengthy post that reads like a dry historical text populated with anti-tech non sequiturs, Piper decries the falseness of reading books on a screen, because if you can't physically touch it, it's just not real.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2013-03-09)
    Voting 0
  10. Did she violate any terms? Amazon will not tell. Perhaps by accident? Amazon does not care. The conclusion so far is clear: Amazon closed her account, wiped her Kindle and refuses to tell her why. End of discussion.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2012-10-22)
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