"I don't have a crystal ball."
January 30, 2012 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Jonathon Franzen doesn't just hate ebooks - he thinks they are having a detrimental effect on the world.

They are not compatible with a just society according to Franzen. Oh, and iPhones are the reason Europe is being run by bankers.
posted by Megami (263 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Get off his lawn?
posted by clarknova at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, and iPhones are the reason Europe is being run by bankers.

Does anyone else smell anti-Semitism in that statement?
posted by Edison Carter at 11:19 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, heaven forfend that access to information be made easier and an author's potential audience be expanded.
posted by zarq at 11:20 AM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Does anyone else smell anti-Semitism in that statement?

Nope.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:20 AM on January 30, 2012 [39 favorites]


Smart≠Sensible
posted by Mister_A at 11:21 AM on January 30, 2012


"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

This seems almost pathological. Writers expect words to be on paper and any other medium is a problem? Writers expect permanence of their words and if it's digital, it's ephemeral? That's nutso.
posted by Edison Carter at 11:21 AM on January 30, 2012 [19 favorites]


Edison Carter: " Does anyone else smell anti-Semitism in that statement?"

No.
posted by zarq at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


And no doubt it's because of the Internet that no one can spell "Jonathan" anymore.
posted by RogerB at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


His comments fill me with the sudden urge to erect a gigantic mechanical statue, a statue the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, which exists only to repeatedly make a jerking-off motion.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2012 [107 favorites]


"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

This ignores completely that publications are written by one person (or group of persons) and then are EDITED by another person or group of persons, turning the original writing into something that isn't just what the writer had original envisioned, correct?

It also ignores that many written works are often printed in 'editions', each with minor tweaks, or updates that were missed in the prior edition.

I'm sorry, if it said something else further down I couldn't get to it.
posted by LoudMusic at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Editing documents after the fact is double-plus not at all threatening to democracy and public discourse.
posted by gauche at 11:22 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


CONTRIBUTE TO THE CRESTFALLENESS OF JONATHAN FRANZEN
posted by The Whelk at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not to belabor the point, but ... e-books are impermanent? bits and bytes can be backed up and moved theoretically forever, books are made of paper which decays at a known rate. Not only do I not understand why impermanence is so tragic, I don't grant the underlying premise.

Yes, I know, he's probably talking about Amazon's theoretical ability to change the text of a book on my Kindle. Color me worried when that technology extends to changing the text of the backup TXT versions I have on my hard drive
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Get off his lawn?

Actually, Franzen wants Oprah to get off his lawn.

The rest of you kids, he wants you to spit out your gum, place your smartphones and other electronic devices in the bin next to his desk, take your seats, get out your readers, assume the posture and disposition he's been teaching you all these months, and read your Great American Jonathan Franzen Novels in precisely the manner he'd like them read. You simply can't fully absorb his blindingly brilliant insights in any other way.
posted by gompa at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2012 [23 favorites]


Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper.

Paper and ink? Are you crazy? A little water or a little fire and it's destroyed forever! As a writer concerned with posterity, I demand that all my works be engraved into granite.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


The acclaimed author of Freedom and The Corrections – which are published as ebooks – has said in the past that "it's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction".

Someone introduce this arrogant jerk to Hugh Howey.
posted by jbickers at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Old man yells at iCloud.
posted by Ratio at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2012 [62 favorites]


"The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that's reassuring. Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

Um, what? Incoherent much?
posted by blucevalo at 11:24 AM on January 30, 2012


Even very talented and perhaps brilliant writers evince such base mental tendencies as ex post facto justification for fear of change.
posted by clockzero at 11:24 AM on January 30, 2012


Paper is so impermanent. I carve all my writing into stone, or at least clay tablets. I have masons working around the clock transcribing my metafilter comments onto granite blocks. Surprising how inexpensive stonemasonry is in China.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:24 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rationalization, rather.
posted by clockzero at 11:24 AM on January 30, 2012


Jonathon Franzen doesn't just hate ebooks - he thinks they are having a detrimental effect on the world.

Hey I didn't like The Corrections either but-- hey wait a second, what?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:25 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does anyone else smell anti-Semitism in that statement?

I know many folks feel compelled to look for anti-Semitism on this particular topic (and not without precedent), but read his actual line.

I think the combination of technology and capitalism has given us a world that really feels out of control. If you go to Europe, politicians don’t matter. The people making the decisions in Europe are bankers. The technicians of finance are making the decisions there. It has very little to do with democracy or the will of the people. And we are hostage to that because we like our iPhones


It's an overly simplistic equivalence on his part, but it's not anti-Semitic.
posted by mykescipark at 11:26 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Granite is easily rechiseled, and erodes. I have my works coded numerically and woven into the fundamental physical constants of the universe.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:26 AM on January 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


Thank god someone respectable is entering this debate with this opinion.

I'm still waiting for the day when filmmakers do the same about 3D. Oh wait, Scorsese, Herzog, Spielberg, Wenders and many others are already making 3D flicks. Oh well ;)
posted by ReeMonster at 11:26 AM on January 30, 2012


CAVE PAINTING GOOD, IPHONE BAD
posted by Mister_A at 11:26 AM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


He doesn't appear in the list of "regular contributors" but certainly could be!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumpy_Old_Men_(TV_series)
posted by LoudMusic at 11:26 AM on January 30, 2012


Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) [Kindle Edition] Kindle Price: $9.99

Hmm...
posted by Artw at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well he actually makes some sort of sense. Once it is in a book, in your house, it is out of the author's hands. With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper."

So Franzen was absolutely sure that Walter had to have a dalliance with a significantly younger woman. And that she had to be improbably beautiful and somewhat exotic. Right.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like printed books AND I love my Kindle, which I can use to get weirdo reads at 1:38 in the morning from the comfort of my bedroom.
posted by Mister_A at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


When they translated the writings on the walls of the passages in The Valley of The Kings, they said things like, "whomever usurps this tomb, his seed shall be made barren". An echo of a time when permanence was considered of the utmost importance. Nowadays our seed is being made barren by additives in plastic wrappers, whose ingredient lists are the closest thing any future generations would have as a Rosetta Stone to understand our languages.

On the other hand, this writer guy seems like a tool. I hope there's more to him than these pronouncements on how terrible technology is.
posted by iotic at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does anyone else smell anti-Semitism in that statement?

No.
posted by aught at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012


It's even more remarkable that he called a press conference to hold forth on these topics.
posted by brain_drain at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jonathan Franzen at the Cartagena festival: 'All the real things are dying off.'

Like trees.
posted by Ardiril at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I just hope he doesn't write his books using one if those new fangled computers. Because that would make him a hypocrite awesome.
posted by seanyboy at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well he actually makes some sort of sense. Once it is in a book, in your house, it is out of the author's hands. With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.

As was mentioned earlier in this thread: editions have always existed in which the author updates/augments/edits his or her work. It's happening and has for centuries.
posted by Edison Carter at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


nce it is in a book, in your house, it is out of the author's hands. With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.


This is true. Imagine a sort of literary George Lucas.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


PLUS I enjoyed The Corrections! I contain Magnitudes, brah!
posted by Mister_A at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing I've come to expect over the past couple of years is the ability to read about how other people interpreted a movie or a magazine piece, as I'm watching or reading. It's one of the drawbacks of watching DVDs, or reading a physical article, is that you can't do that.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And no doubt it's because of the Internet that no one can spell "Jonathan" anymore.
yes, sorry, I should have proofed ...

As for 'ebooks can be changed at any moment' - does no-one else back up their electronic copies on a hard drive so you have your own 'permanent copy'?
posted by Megami at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2012


editions have always existed in which the author updates/augments/edits his or her work. It's happening and has for centuries.

True, but you will always havethe previous edition. It isn't like the author shows up at your house and redacts the 1st edition. If you own it on paper, you can just stick with 1st edition if you want.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:31 AM on January 30, 2012


I have more confidence in a SHA-1 hash of a digital file than I do in a publisher's assurance that they have not manipulated the contents of a book between printings.
posted by CaseyB at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


access to information be made easier

Is access to information easier now? Not with ebooks as they currently exist that I've noticed. You have to be able to afford the device and the bandwidth, first of all. And if you can't, good luck finding a lot of books at your local library. The tech library at work is slowly aging out of relevance as all the paper books become obsolete and the rest is online where you can only read it (if you call sitting in front of a computer "reading") if you are connecting from a particular set of computers>

Not only do I not understand why impermanence is so tragic

oh jesus
posted by DU at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


ebooks could helps save the world by making the need for paper, and thus cutting down trees, a more rare thing. I love a good, solid book as much as anyone else but the future is the future.
posted by Malice at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"As for 'ebooks can be changed at any moment' - does no-one else back up their electronic copies on a hard drive so you have your own 'permanent copy'?"

Only those I might possibly want to read again. Franzen's, not so much.
posted by chavenet at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2012


I'm finding that there are ebook versions of things I've given up trying to find in print all the time - how does that factor in to the whole permanence argument?
posted by Artw at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could help* rather.
posted by Malice at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2012


I'm pretty sure the publisher has not manipulated the contents of books I have on my shelf.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2012


Electronic reading materials are not compatible with a free society?

You wonder if this guy has heard of the Internet.
posted by deanklear at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm kind of amazed at the anti-Franzen sentiment here. I'm sure the guy can be an asshole in other areas, but he's exactly right about the cheapening/commodification/impermanence of text when it's disconnected from its physical medium (the book).
posted by BobbyVan at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Not to belabor the point, but ... e-books are impermanent? bits and bytes can be backed up and moved theoretically forever, books are made of paper which decays at a known rate.

Can be, but frequently are not. And even things that are properly backed up assume a surrounding ecosystem of hardware and software that may itself become unavailable.

When I was growing up as a kid, I could read all my parents' old novels from the 60s and 70s, and pick up similar vintage books from a yard sale, and that was that. Today, how would I go about picking up an Amiga or Commodore game if I wanted to investigate this history of gaming? Even if I could track down a copy of the install media and a drive that could read it, I would also need an emulator. And I'm sure these things exist, but still. It is not like picking up an old book from a yard sale or used book store.

I don't fully endorse Franzen's rants on the "impermanence" of e-books, but it seems hard to argue that there are many practical obstacles to adequately curating digital artifacts vs. plain old books.
posted by rkent at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Oh, I agree. I am pro e-book. I'm just pointing out Franzen isn't a total loon.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Franzen has, aside from possibly Robert Mugabe, the largest philtrum I have ever seen.

His upper lip is so massive as to be almost chimp-like.

That is all.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is access to information easier now? Not with ebooks as they currently exist that I've noticed.

I'm guessing within a few years many 'developing' countries, where books are expensive and fall apart quickly due to the environment, having an ereader will be a huge boon for schools: mobile access is relative cheap in a lot of African countries for example, so if you have access to regular (or even semi-regular) power, a school can have a huge number of texts for students to access that they never would have previously.
posted by Megami at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2012


Ad hominem: Well he actually makes some sort of sense. Once it is in a book, in your house, it is out of the author's hands. With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.

That depends on how you get your books. Are they tied to some internet store? And has anyone actually started to "refine" their books post-sales? Some sources will sell you a book without DRM, without ties. Go for those copies, and you just downloaded a file that is as good offline as it is online.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I even got an ebook reader recently and it's kind-of OK for something I don't care to read too closely. But if you want to do *anything* non-linear (check back on an equation, riffle forward to see how long the chapter is, quickly look at the publication date, etc) it completely sucks ass. It's like reading a book on TV.
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


...a statue the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, which exists only to repeatedly make a jerking-off motion.

REMEMBER ME! [SPURT]
REMEMBER ME! [SPURT]

posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I miss the days of monks in tiny cells.

Harrumph.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


cheapening/commodification/impermanence of text

Like newspapers, a supermarket paperback or a magazine? Most printed tests aren't embossed leather tomes, read from lecterns. Books have been disposable, impermanent objects for hundreds of years.
posted by bonehead at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Look upon my works, ye mighty, and be a little bit squicked.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree, I think ebooks (and the constant connectedness of electronic objects) are detrimental to society and I'm in my twenties. It was pretty great when my parents gave me the hard copy 1970s (and earlier!) editions of books that really meant something to them when they were my age. Yeah you could theoretically do that with ebooks to your kids in 30 years, but does anyone believe it will actually be so simply? Paper doesn't have the lingering "rights" management problems of digital bits.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


but he's exactly right about the cheapening/commodification/impermanence of text when it's disconnected from its physical medium (the book).

This is what the monks said about Gutenberg's machine.
posted by chavenet at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Distributed append-only data structures are the solution. Content addressability FTW!

We'll get there.
posted by finite at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that's reassuring. Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

Um, what? Incoherent much?


You're saying you couldn't follow his argument? Seemed clear enough to me. But you have to have a sense of what it means to see art as a physical object, even if you don't agree.

I'm not sure I have Franzen's paranoia that someone's going to edit an ebook behind my back, but I can say that I do not find the etext reading experience anywhere near as satisfying as reading a physical book. Particularly the whole process of learning about an author or title, browsing a bookstore, purchasing the book, taking it home, and turning the pages one by one in a comfy chair under a bright reading lamp. That process has been one of the chief joys of my life (no exaggeration).
posted by aught at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


We had a discussion the other day about the struggle to archive early games. I just want to point out that in my last post on the first pc-game, the game was actually coppied off disk by a guy on #oldwarez on efnet. Who knows how many copies of that disk still exist.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2012


It was pretty great when my parents gave me the hard copy 1970s (and earlier!) editions of books that really meant something to them when they were my age.

Yeah, but what about all the other hundreds or thousands of books they bought and have collected 40+ years of dust? Are you going to enjoy piling through that when you take care of their estate?

A bookcase sure looks impressive, I have many!, but it's hell to move.

See, we could do this all day.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:40 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


The fairly hysteric polemical against the internet and ebooks makes it hard to take what he says seriously, but the permanence issue is a real one. Ebooks solve lots of problems with accessibility and lightness, but they take a big step back in terms of being skimmable, in terms of browsing the stacks at a bookstore, in terms of resale and borrowing, even in terms of simple page layout (though I suspect another five years and this will improve considerably). It's easy to pick up and read a 200 year old book, but will this be true with an ePub file that you want your children to read in even 20 years? Or a cherished children's app? Digital archiving is hard and not a generally solved problem. And for many of the advantages of ebooks (I buy them almost exclusively, especially since I expect to do an international move before too long), they lose out to paper in terms of browsing, borrowing, and even simple page layout.

I suspect that Franzen is reacting to a lot of these feelings, though I'm sure he doesn't actually understand enough about the technology to have particularly nuanced opinions about the matter. He also seems like he has quite the ego and enjoys holding forth. In this case, I think it's too easy to make fun of his ridiculousness (iPhones caused European banker malfeasance, what?), but in my technology loving heart of hearts, I can't say I'm entirely at ease with the current state of ebooks. I just hope the powers that be push forward on fixing their problems.
posted by Schismatic at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you go to Europe, politicians don’t matter. The people making the decisions in Europe are bankers

Phew! I'm glad there's nothing like that going on over here!
posted by Hoopo at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around.

Ah, I see his problem. He's feeling instead of thinking.
posted by Edgewise at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the article: "the combination of technology and capitalism has given us a world that really feels out of control."

"If you go to Europe, politicians don't matter. The people making the decisions in Europe are bankers," he said. "The technicians of finance are making the decisions there. It has very little to do with democracy or the will of the people. And we are hostage to that because we like our iPhones."


Come again? Are iPhones the new bread and circuses of ancient Rome? Was it really different even before Cable TV? Is he longing for the days of terrestrial TV, a few major channels providing all the news and entertainment? Or does he want us to go back farther, when we were local communities, involved with each-other because our worlds were smaller?

This article feels truncated.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do we have to be so limited? Why can't we have both? If you really like a book, buy a physical copy. If you want to carry the entire library around with you, use an ereader. Both media have their advantages and disadvantages, but I don't see why we have to choose. Especially when it's so trivially easy to obtain either format. Heck, in a few years some clever person is going to figure out a workable business plan for allowing me to upload my purchased ebooks (with my annotations and such) and print and bind them on demand for a trivial sum. Actually that probably already exists somewhere. Why limit outselves?
posted by Wretch729 at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


True, but you will always havethe previous edition. It isn't like the author shows up at your house and redacts the 1st edition. If you own it on paper, you can just stick with 1st edition if you want.

One man's bug is another man's feature: what if the author makes a bunch of corrections (hah!) to the first edition? I'd love to be able to just download them. In a book world, I have a crappy errata sheet or I have to buy the new edition.

In the end, the real point here is that we simply need to develop sensible rules about how we use e-books. The medium itself is pretty much value-neutral; it can be used well or used stupidly. Silent, nonconsensual changes to editions you've bought shouldn't be allowed (although the question of typos is a tricky one here--doesn't the author arguably have a 'right' to have the version they actually wrote be the one you read?). Optional available updates for those who choose to adopt them seems entirely a win: as long as historical archiving of prior editions is done rigorously.

In the meantime, I'm loving the ability to read a world of out-of-copyright material on my ebooks for free; editions I'd have had to use interlibrary loan to access in the past, often for very limited periods of time.
posted by yoink at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


True, but you will always havethe previous edition. It isn't like the author shows up at your house and redacts the 1st edition. If you own it on paper, you can just stick with 1st edition if you want.

This is the key point. The earlier editions are part of the historical record and cannot be changed to reflect or hide an author's mistakes, inaccuracies, biases, or other features of the text.

And even things that are properly backed up assume a surrounding ecosystem of hardware and software that may itself become unavailable.

About ten years ago, I knew a man whose job it was to archive university library collections, particularly universities in the former Soviet republics. One time we got to talking about his work and I remember asking whether electronic archival formats were changing his industry much. He laughed.

They do all of their archiving in microfiche, he said, and there are no plans to change to an electronic archive. They use microfiche primarily for a couple of reasons. 1) developed microfiche is way, way more stable an archive medium than magnetic media. 2) It's virtually technology-independent: you can read microfiche with a magnifying lens and sunlight if that's all you have.

His archives would be useable in a post-apocalyptic world, if it came to that. He said, I'm not working for the next generation of machines. I'm working for the next hundred generations of people, whatever machines they may happen to use.
posted by gauche at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


Your DNA is continually being torn apart, rebuilt, subject to mutation and only "permanent" provided one organism after another is able to actively reproduce it. Yet some portions of your current DNA have been preserved, more or less intact, for over 3 billion years – longer than all but the oldest rock formations. Certainly longer than mighty words in impermeable granite will last.

And you know what? The works of Homer, the Epic of Gilgamesh – they only survived, and survive, because people labored over their survival. Nothing about their existence on paper ensures they'll continue to exist. Only their active reproduction will cause them to continue.

So it is with bits.
posted by argybarg at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2012 [32 favorites]


This article feels truncated.

With Franzen that's a feature, not a bug.
posted by chavenet at 11:45 AM on January 30, 2012


a statue the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, which exists only to repeatedly make a jerking-off motion.

hey they made a novelization of that statue, it's called Freedom
posted by Greg Nog at 11:45 AM on January 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


Not to belabor the point, but ... e-books are impermanent?

You might want to sit down for the answer.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:46 AM on January 30, 2012


...but I don't see why we have to choose.

To play devil's advocate: some people can't afford not to choose and, when presented with a $9.99 e-book and a $14.99 physical copy, will try to save their money even if they would've 100% bought the $14.99 book were there no cheaper e-book option.
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on January 30, 2012


Why can't we have both?

We can, for now. But if history has shown us anything, it's that the cheaper option will always win even if it provides fewer features. Maybe even *especially if* it provides fewer features, since those can now be luxury add-ons.
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on January 30, 2012


(also: shameless promotion of month-later comment I made in original mefi thread about Freedom)
posted by Greg Nog at 11:48 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I'm concerned it all went downhill when we went from remembered oral history to this new-fangled "writing system" thing. Sure, a book is a physical object, but what good is it if you forget the words of the story as soon as you shut the cover?
posted by XMLicious at 11:49 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


But if history has shown us anything, it's that the cheaper option will always win even if it provides fewer features.

Citation.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's why he's right: with paperbacks, I can easily throw a copy of the Corrections across the room in disgust.

I wouldn't want to risk breaking a Kindle.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:52 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Argh.

You know, Maurice Sendak hating ebooks -- that I can get behind. I love that he's so angry about ebooks at the end of that recent Colbert interview. I love that he's old and grumpy and totally free to say exactly what he thinks.

But Franzen? Saying ebooks are immoral? Not for "serious" readers (nor, by implication, for serious writers)? That's a value judgment that, to me, smacks of the same privilege/trolling stuff of his Oprah Book Club Rejection debacle.

It also just seems ridiculous. What, super literary books can't be read on a digital platform? I hate to break it to him, but I've been reading SERIOUS BOOKS (right alongside -- shh! -- GENRE books!) on my iPad for years. (And in fact reading books on the iPad via the kindle app has made a serious reader out of my 9-year-old, who was thrilled to discover that he could tap any word in the book and have a definition pop up for him. Yes, he knows how to use a dictionary. The point is, now he's not intimidated to not know something -- he knows he can find it out, himself, with minimal effort, which makes him more confident about the whole enterprise.)

Full disclosure: my last set of books were super old-fashioned, heavy hardcovers with fancy end-paper and thick pages. But my next book is something of an experiment in that, rather than being a print book first and then an ebook as an afterthought, it will be released as an ebook first, with a print edition to follow a few months after. (See this recent Wall Street Journal article.) The point being, I just don't see the need for this false dichotomy, or this frankly old-fashioned notion that one form of information delivery is superior to, or more worthy than, another. Ebooks are books, and that's a good thing for writers and readers alike.
posted by mothershock at 11:53 AM on January 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Open letter to Jonathan Franzen...

Hey Jon,

Right, sorry, Jonathan. Will you please stop writing non-fiction. You are not good at it, you do not have the right sort of mentality for it and you never come across well in it. Stick to writing fiction, because you are good at that, though you are not as good as that as you think you are. Please also try to avoid talking expostulating about your fiction for the reasons mentioned above.

Thanks,
Orange Swan
posted by orange swan at 11:53 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always suspected that he was a pompous ass.
posted by jonmc at 11:53 AM on January 30, 2012


Ebooks are the least of it...things went down hill long before them

http://outofthejungle.blogspot.com/2007/11/socrates-objections-to-writing.html
posted by Postroad at 11:54 AM on January 30, 2012


he's exactly right about the cheapening/commodification/impermanence of text when it's disconnected from its physical medium (the book).

Speaking as somebody who has had to move a ~500 book library into and out of a third-story walk-up, the physical medium can go fuck itself. When I look at my life, I just can't say "One of the ways I could be happier is if I owned more bulky and heavy physical objects".
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:54 AM on January 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Point taken griphus-- but that's an economic and technological problem, not an inherent flaw in the medium. Are we to assume the paperback would be five bucks cheaper if ebooks didn't exist? Maybe so, maybe ebooks have enabled a new differential pricing structure for publishers, but it still seems like a storm in a teapot to me. Technology (unless crippled by SOPA-style supression) is moving in the direction of cheaper and cheaper print-on-demand. Traditional publishing must evolve or fall by the wayside.

Sure it'll be messy in the interim, but I can turn around your argument. What if it's not "reader X would have spent $15 instead of $10 if there was no ebook" but rather "reader X would have not bought the book, or would have gotten it from a library, if there was no $10 ebook?"

Argybarg makes an excellent point as well. For all that those guys at The Long Now are trying, unless people work to preserve a text it will be lost no matter the medium.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:54 AM on January 30, 2012


Citation.

Off the top of my head, VHS beat out Beta (which had higher recording quality) in part because of its lower price point. It's longer recording time -- the other big feature -- also came at the cost of quality. Not exactly relevant to books vs. ebooks, but it happens.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on January 30, 2012


The only part that stuck with me of the "Daily Show" interview of the author of "The World Without Us" was the assertion that, according to his research, bronze sculptures are basically the only human artifacts that would be recognizable on Earth after 10 million years. And then he smiles and notes that his wife is a bronze sculptor, so he's a writer with one of the few inside tracks on having a non-ephemeral legacy.

Franzen may want to get himself to a smithy.
posted by argonauta at 11:56 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


And even things that are properly backed up assume a surrounding ecosystem of hardware and software that may itself become unavailable.

People always make this argument and it is starting to seem like concern trolling to me. Yes, if the whole internet and the ability to run software on general-purpose computers disappears tomorrow, you won't be able to read your .epub books anymore. But guess what? The whole internet is not going to disappear. You might as well say that writing might disappear, so we should only consume books via the oral tradition, just to be safe. It's not a realistic concern. It's not going to happen.

Do specific formats become obsolete? Sure. But it's simply not plausible to say that every single copy of an electronic book is going to be abandoned, that no one is ever going to migrate it to a newer, better format, that all knowledge of the .epub (or .mobi or whatever) format will be permanently and irrevocably lost and so the book is going to disappear forever.

In the real world, many books have disappeared forever when all the physical copies were lost or destroyed. So have many other creative works stored on analog media:
Of American silent films far more have been lost than have survived, and of American sound films made from 1927 to 1950, perhaps half have been lost.
So to present this as fatal flaw unique to digital works is just completely disingenuous and I really have a hard time buying the good faith of anyone making these kinds of arguments.
posted by enn at 11:57 AM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.

I write poetry and this is an additional way to manipulate words in order to create an effect. I say AWESOME. Give me a poem that changes when you read it, or with the seasons, or depending on your location...fuck YES.

No one steal those ideas, thanks.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:58 AM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


*sigh* different formats for different purposes. MP3s/Flacs, for example are great for portability, ease of use. Records are fantastic for quality and large format artwork and liner notes. I like both for different reasons. And I love love love it when records come with a download code, that is truly the best of both worlds. But I am not going to buy every album in record format even if it where available as such. Some bits of music are just.. well fluff.. and whole I may want to own it I really don't care that much about having it in record format because ... eh.

same with books. I love paper books. Up to now that is all I have owned. But there is a place for e-books as well and I can easily see having a paper, nice copy, and an e-book transportable copy. For me, e-books are going to replace paperbacks but not replace those books I want in nicely bound hardcover. And I hope in the near future paper books come with a digital download code as well.

I don't think paper books are going to disappear either.
posted by edgeways at 11:58 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"has said in the past that "it's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction". He seals the ethernet port on his own computer to prevent him connecting to the internet while he writes, also removing the card so he is unable to play computer games and wearing noise-cancelling headphones to prevent distraction."

And with that self-discipline and concentration he can crank out a novel in less than a decade!
posted by Ch33ky at 11:59 AM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.

That's only possible with a very specific type of ebooks, which is those of the Amazon/Apple variety that live "in the cloud" and are generally only pulled down to local storage in a device for the time it takes to read them, and then deleted again, and where the devices are in constant communication with the mothership.

That's an implementation aspect of several ebook systems, but it's not a characteristic of ebooks in general.

There's no way for someone to "issue a patch" to a HTML file sitting on the hard drive of my PC, any more than Sony can reach into my computer and spontaneously delete my MP3s, unless I'm managing that file with a program that specifically gives them the ability to do so. Ebooks can be quite safe, but only if we're not tempted by the "cloud" and give up a lot of freedom to achieve some convenience. That's where stuff gets dangerous, or at least starts to have unpleasant possibilities.

It's also why I strongly recommend that anyone who is spending money on ebooks today, from Amazon or B&N or wherever, grab a copy of Calibre and the appropriate de-DRMing plugins, and periodically import all your purchased books into Calibre's repository. It will only take a few minutes and a few megs of space, and guarantees that you have all the benefits of digitization working for you rather than against you, as a reader.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 AM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Possible designs for markers for the Jonathon Franzen containment zone
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of American silent films far more have been lost than have survived, and of American sound films made from 1927 to 1950, perhaps half have been lost.

To be fair, we no longer store anything on media literally made out of bombs.
posted by theodolite at 12:01 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's an implementation aspect of several ebook systems, but it's not a characteristic of ebooks in general.

Guys, I understand about patching, really I do. But really, pirating the books or making your own backup is a non-starter for 99% of people who are going to buy ebooks.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favourite tweet about this, from MeFi's Own mattbucher:

"Ebooks will lead to bestiality. -- Santorum/Franzen 2012"
posted by Phire at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


griphus another example you could cite would be airline travel. Sure the trend of cheaper vs. quality is something to think about, but the opposite extreme is the extreme expense of hand copied manuscripts before the invention of the printing press. It is easier and cheaper today to get a book in any format you desire than it ever has been.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2012


"Seriously, the world is changing so quickly that if you had any more than 80 years of change I don't see how you could stand it psychologically."

This one sentence really sums up the whole rest of the article, as far as I'm concerned. In Franzen's case, apparently even 53 years of change is psychologically unbearable. Witness how he turns his computer into an electric typewriter in order to get the writing down.
posted by looli at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway, the real technical solution was mentioned upthead. Append only files and store edits as deltas. That way no information is ever lost.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This particular take on the menace of digitized text reminds me somewhat of similar arguments (that seem not to have much currency anymore, perhaps because the old technology has been so thoroughly usurped outside the art set) that digital photography was making the image inherently less reliable.

And I've got the same problem with it: while there is certainly something interesting in the fact that an original photographic image (the developed negative in most modern cases) bears the trace of the original photochemical reaction of the original light bouncing off whatever in that particular moment in time, the immutability of the photographic image is nonetheless an illusion and we best come to terms with that.

If you want to protect the integrity of information it is not sufficient to merely smash ink on a page with a plate. The text is no more a fixed object because you pressed the leaves of its medium between boards and put it on a shelf. If you want to protect the integrity of the information you have to live for it, reproduce it, talk about it, remember it, and above all distribute it. I love paper books and I will always own them unless circumstances really do a number on the physical space I command but in terms of preserving the original integrity of texts the digital puts us into a much better and much more honest situation.
posted by nanojath at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


His comments fill me with the sudden urge to erect a gigantic mechanical statue, a statue the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, which exists only to repeatedly make a jerking-off motion.

Have you checked out Minecraft?
posted by inigo2 at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2012


Thou doth risk awl knowings by use ouf payper. Tree's mayketh fuel for dwellings and crafting houses and twill runneth out wayn carv'd for payper. Papyrus ist awlways the choice ouf scribes.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else smell anti-Semitism in that statement?

No. And while the author of the original statement isn't about to show up here and explain the iphone -> banks run Europe perhaps you will take the time to explain how you go from banks run things -> anti-Semitism.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2012


banks run Europe perhaps you will take the time to explain how you go from banks run things -> anti-Semitism.


"International bankers" is a codeword for jewish in neo-nazi circles.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:07 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Secret cabals of Jewish bankers run the world" is not an uncommon anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, as such things go. But I think you can give the rhetoric a bit of a pass when multiple major European countries actually have investment bankers as their chief executives.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've got another one for ya, the young rope-rider: on camera-equipped devices, poems that via face recognition change based upon the facial expression of the person reading them.
posted by XMLicious at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2012


Well, shit. At first I read the Jonathan as Jonathan Lethem, and I was (rightly) concerned.

The Time I Tried to Defend Jonathan Franzen to the Internet

his belief that serious readers will always prefer print editions.

As a serious reader (LOL), I can tell you that certainly doesn't apply to me. I'm reading 1Q84 right now on hardcover, kindle fire, and Android phone.

Here's the rub. Which version I read depends on .... where I am. How about that!

I read the entire A Song of Fire and Ice quintology on my 3-inch phone back in the spring (it was about 15,000 little pages total).

If there's one thing I've learned: any time ANY writer tries to imply some universal truths about writing or reading, she is ALWAYS wrong.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:10 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I find it incredibly disturbing that Amazon can just issue a centralized command and delete all the copies of any book from everyone's Kindle, or censor any book as crudely or subtly as they like.

It seems to me that once that power exists, it's too tempting to be resisted forever. Maybe not today but in five, ten, fifty, one hundred years it will be done. Maybe by Amazon, maybe by some corporation that takes over Amazon, maybe by some government with legal power over Amazon, maybe by some group of religious/political ideological hackers, but someone.

It's not that paper is physically, intrinsically better. It's perfectly possible to have a DRM-free electronic book that's just as much yours as a paper book. But they seem to be being driven out by powerful institutions that want e-books to be firmly under central control.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Not only do I not understand why impermanence is so tragic, I don't grant the underlying premise.

Ditto. He seems to have a poor conception of digital files. I think he must be assuming any e-book is in the cloud and at the whim of changes from the publisher?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2012


I fundamentally don't get this. I do not understand his complaint. Franzen is obviously a bright guy who has what it takes to be both a best-selling and well-regarded author. (FWIW, I've never read his books.) How can he not grasp the simple fact that one of the useful things about books, one of the medium's selling points, is that it is such a protean thing - a "book" is everything from a leather-bound, gold-embossed acid-free-paper library edition to a dog-eared romance novel in the Salvation Army freebie bin. A "book" is Dr. Suess, a book is Marcel Proust. I like owning hardback first editions of works by writers I love. I like buying cheap disposable pulp novels that I'll only read once. I like ebooks for reading in bed on my iPhone with the lights off. There is a place in people's lives for all these formats and for formats yet undeployed. Ebooks will not lead to the death of the printed word. They're just another convenient format for the consumption of words. Get over it, Franzen.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2012 [21 favorites]


I think he must be assuming any e-book is in the cloud and at the whim of changes from the publisher?

Bear in mind that many e-book publishers also believe this.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:13 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


@TheophileEscargot: You said a lot more than Franzen in a lot fewer words.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:13 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper.

I can relate to this. I used to compose letters in plain text very carefully, so that the lines would be of similar lengths, and, call it an affectation if you want, but sometimes I'd get a whole paragraph justified exactly on the right side, by careful word choice.

More importantly, the line breaks carried meaning, and gave emphasis and structure.

That's gone now, for all I know the recipient of email is using the horizontal scroll bar to go through one long, uninterrupted, line of text.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it incredibly disturbing that Amazon can just issue a centralized command and delete all the copies of any book from everyone's Kindle, or censor any book as crudely or subtly as they like.


That is a problem with "The Cloud", and one of the reasons I can not see myself storing anything on "the Cloud".
posted by edgeways at 12:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't take this article seriously because I'm reading it on my computer instead of in a printed newspaper.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:17 PM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Physical books are still the better choice of medium for longterm storage of information (though not the best). But not all information needs longterm storage, or even should be consumed in the same medium that we store it in. Electronic copies for today, electronic copies made from physical copies for tomorrow. The first big failure of electronic storage will prove the limits of ebooks, but their convenience will still let them thrive within those limits.

ebooks could helps save the world by making the need for paper, and thus cutting down trees, a more rare thing. I love a good, solid book as much as anyone else but the future is the future.

I assume this is not meant to be taken seriously? Books aren't destroying the rainforests, really.
posted by Jehan at 12:18 PM on January 30, 2012


A million favorites to BitterOldPunk!
posted by mothershock at 12:18 PM on January 30, 2012


As far as I'm concerned it all went downhill when we went from remembered oral history to this new-fangled "writing system" thing. Sure, a book is a physical object, but what good is it if you forget the words of the story as soon as you shut the cover?

This is kind of facile. The advantage of permanent media is that you don't have to remember the words. They are still there when you come back to them. That's the point. The fact that you can point to historical progress in the development of writing does not ipso facto mean that

The problem Franzen seems to have with eBooks is that that very permanence is not an inherent feature of the medium. I linked to this above but I'm going to make it more explicit here: eBooks have the potential to become a memory hole.

The issue is not that eBooks won't be lost. It's that they will be able to be imperceptively changed.

If you want to protect the integrity of information it is not sufficient to merely smash ink on a page with a plate. The text is no more a fixed object because you pressed the leaves of its medium between boards and put it on a shelf. If you want to protect the integrity of the information you have to live for it, reproduce it, talk about it, remember it, and above all distribute it.

It's more complicated than that. You may be aware that there's some controversy over some old newsletters that were published by a current candidate for the Republican nomination. I for one am not satisfied by the idea that those texts are impermanent and malleable. They aren't. They are the written record of someone's thoughts from twenty years ago, and the world in which they can be sanitized years after the fact is a world in which political discourse is diminished in some pretty serious ways.

The current electronic ecosystem has enough play in it that we can archive texts in formats that the publisher doesn't control, but the trend is toward devices -- and indeed an internet -- which are under the control of publishing and distribution companies. That is what is scary about eBooks.
posted by gauche at 12:19 PM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


The fact that you can point to historical progress in the development of writing does not ipso facto mean that all technological developments are salutary. Whoops.
posted by gauche at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2012


I can relate to this. I used to compose letters in plain text very carefully, so that the lines would be of similar lengths, and, call it an affectation if you want, but sometimes I'd get a whole paragraph justified exactly on the right side, by careful word choice.

They have medications for this, now.
posted by Edgewise at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


"International bankers" is a codeword for jewish in neo-nazi circles.

Hear I was thinking "International bankers" is shorthand for sociopaths. And when sociopaths are able to be in government leadership positions and be bought off by other sociopaths - about the only tie to iPhone I could come up with is the sociopathic Apple/Foxcomm treatment of workers.

But again, the people qualified to explain what they meant are the ones who made the statements.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2012


The issue is not that eBooks won't be lost. It's that they will be able to be imperceptively changed

This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.
posted by mothershock at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm always reminded of Jack Valenti's completely accurate and 100% on target comment about how VHS was destroying film and filmmakers.

"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."

So true. Anyone remember movie theaters? Someday we'll whisper "Remember books?" we have to whisper because the T-800s are outside.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:23 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think that permanence can be overrated and even stifling.

I was pumping friend's husband for info about his field (translating babylonian tablets as part of his studies in ancient astronomy) He said that most of the many, many preserved tablets are agricultural inventories or purely observational records and they pass on very little about the theories the Babylonians had regarding the mechanics of the world around them.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:24 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of American silent films far more have been lost than have survived, and of American sound films made from 1927 to 1950, perhaps half have been lost.

Of Americans, far more have died than have survived, and of Americans born between 1927 and 1950, perhaps half or more have died.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:25 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem Franzen seems to have with eBooks is that that very permanence is not an inherent feature of the medium.

How is a CD not exactly what you are mentioning?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:25 PM on January 30, 2012


"The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work!"

And not to nitpick a fundamentally flawed argument, but if I spilled a glass of water on a paperback, it would be ruined. If I spill a glass of water on my phone, it's probably OK.

I can relate to this. I used to compose letters in plain text very carefully, so that the lines would be of similar lengths, and, call it an affectation if you want, but sometimes I'd get a whole paragraph justified exactly on the right side, by careful word choice.

More importantly, the line breaks carried meaning, and gave emphasis and structure.

That's gone now, for all I know the recipient of email is using the horizontal scroll bar to go through one long, uninterrupted, line of text.


That's really the only real argument against, and it is valid, imo. For most books, though, I don't think it's much of a factor.

The issue is not that eBooks won't be lost. It's that they will be able to be imperceptively changed.

But you're talking about a very specific subset of "ebooks," i.e. those with DRM. I download an epub from an online resource to my local computer, there is extremely little chance that anyone (assuming decent security) can change that file.

That argument is like saying digital music is horrible because MP3s are lossless. There are other formats.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:25 PM on January 30, 2012


When I was growing up as a kid, I could read all my parents' old novels from the 60s and 70s, and pick up similar vintage books from a yard sale, and that was that. Today, how would I go about picking up an Amiga or Commodore game if I wanted to investigate this history of gaming? Even if I could track down a copy of the install media and a drive that could read it, I would also need an emulator. And I'm sure these things exist, but still. It is not like picking up an old book from a yard sale or used book store.

The difference being ePUB, at least, is an open format whereas games are executables that run to very specific Operating Systems and hardware. The movement to open file formats lets us view certain file types regardless of OS.

Now Amazon doesn't support ePUB but MOBI and Apple's newer format may also be proprietary but as long as ePUB continues it's not too much of an issue.
posted by juiceCake at 12:25 PM on January 30, 2012


he's exactly right about the cheapening/commodification/impermanence of text when it's disconnected from its physical medium (the book).

I'm really curious to know how you're sure this is true, and if you can demonstrate it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:26 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also why I strongly recommend that anyone who is spending money on ebooks today, from Amazon or B&N or wherever, grab a copy of Calibre and the appropriate de-DRMing plugins

Thanks for posting this. I've liked my e-reader so far, but I worried about what would happen if the company that sells it ever goes out of business/stops supporting the device.
posted by drezdn at 12:26 PM on January 30, 2012


How is a CD not exactly what you are mentioning?

I don't understand. How is a CD an eBook? Can you burn an eBook from your Kindle or Nook or iPad to CD? How long do you think that will last?
posted by gauche at 12:27 PM on January 30, 2012


StickyCarpet I can relate to your finding happiness in a beautifully formatted letter, but it just proves my point. You can still do exactly what you describe. You can type a letter and print it, or write it with an expensive fountain pen on fancy paper, or scrawl it with a crayon on a newspaper. The postal service will still take it, and deliver it. Or FedEx can overnight it. You could even write that nice letter, scan it, and e-mail it!

The available of these alternatives is why I don't mind email. If email was run by a huge monopoly that had gotten all other forms of written communication banned, THEN I would be upset. That's essentially the plot of Going Postal and I agree that it would be awful. (By the way, Going Postal is currently available as an ebook, a trade paperback, a mass market paperback, a CD audio book, and an audible.com digital audio book, and that's just from a 5 second Amazon search!)

gauche makes a good point about the memory hole thing, but there are counter arguments about how the ease with which digital copies can be made and preserved can have the opposite effect. Also, I'm unconvinced about your pessimism regarding the path of technological development. Technology as a tool for corporate or government control certainly part of the story, but not the whole thing.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:28 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The issue is not that eBooks won't be lost. It's that they will be able to be imperceptively changed.

So?

Thus has it ever been.

One could argue that ebooks are MORE resistant to creeping textual alteration because instead of just ONE canonical manuscript to compare to (which one? and who does the declaring?), we'll have MILLIONS of copies of the manuscript.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:29 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you burn an eBook from your Kindle or Nook or iPad to CD? How long do you think that will last?

I don't know about you, but I can absolutely do this with my Sony eReader.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:29 PM on January 30, 2012


His comments fill me with the sudden urge to erect a gigantic mechanical statue, a statue the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, which exists only to repeatedly make a jerking-off motion.

I smell a Kickstarter page.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


gauche makes a good point about the memory hole thing, but there are counter arguments about how the ease with which digital copies can be made and preserved can have the opposite effect. Also, I'm unconvinced about your pessimism regarding the path of technological development. Technology as a tool for corporate or government control certainly part of the story, but not the whole thing.

Absolutely. I'm not saying that this is what's happening. I just think that this is Franzen's argument and that argument is getting dismissively short shrift here.

In fact, I'd be willing to be that electronic media (particularly email) have made it so that there is probably more evidence of various sorts of white-collar wrongdoing today than there was during, say, the S&L scandal, and that this might be a counter-argument to Franzen's point. But that wasn't -- in the main -- the argument playing out here.
posted by gauche at 12:33 PM on January 30, 2012


How is a CD not exactly what you are mentioning?
I don't understand.


permanence is not an inherent feature of the medium - the CD has 'permanence' of the pits and lands of a mastered CD are moulded into a CD blank.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:33 PM on January 30, 2012


Me: The issue is not that eBooks won't be lost. It's that they will be able to be imperceptively changed.

BitterOldPunk: So?

Thus has it ever been.


Wait, what? Amazon has always been able to reach into my bookshelf and delete the physical books that are in my possession?
posted by gauche at 12:35 PM on January 30, 2012


I don't know about you, but I can absolutely do this with my Sony eReader.

And that's great. But you can only do that as long as Sony allows it and/or you don't install whatever patch disables that feature. And maybe you're comfortable with that. But that doesn't mean that other people are not as comfortable, or that they're wrong or ridiculous for thinking that it is a problem.
posted by gauche at 12:39 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


His comments fill me with the sudden urge to erect a gigantic mechanical statue, a statue the size of the Colossus of Rhodes, which exists only to repeatedly make a jerking-off motion.

I smell a Kickstarter page.


It's going to be important to get the glasses just right. They need to tread the line between "pretentious hipster douche" and "pretentious intellectual douche" with the control of a ballerina or high wire artists is vitally critical.

And seriously, two okay books and Frantzen feels the need to pontificate about shit the rest of us are completely fine deciding for ourselves? Fuck him. Shouldn't he be writing another piece reminding us what great friends he and DFW were?

Besides, it he was serious about his contentions, he'd cast his books in brass, instead of that temporal substitute, paper and ink.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2012


I am about to finish Infinite Jest on my iPad. Anyone who says they never needed a dictionary with that book is lying or not paying attention, and that alone was worth whatever else the ebook format gets wrong. Having that mountain of footnotes, and footnotes within footnotes neatly hyperlinked was also handy. The paper version might even weigh more than my iPad and takes up more space. If that bothers the ghost of DFW, tough shit.

That said, not flipping a physical page does something to my memory that I'm not entirely happy with, but I think that might be the only thing close to an empirically testable good argument against the entire format.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Editing Eating documents after the fact is double-plus not at all threatening to democracy and public discourse.

This is how I read this comment. I think it still makes the statement valid.
posted by Fizz at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2012


Wait, what? Amazon has always been able to reach into my bookshelf and delete the physical books that are in my possession?

It's worse than that. How long has it been since you bought a textbook? Each new edition makes the old one obsolete, and you can't just update the book, you have to buy the new one. Resale value for obsolete used textbooks is zero. It got so bad that my university requires teachers to refund their royalties to each student in cash, if the instructor requires students to purchase a textbook he authored.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2012


Wait, what? Amazon has always been able to reach into my bookshelf and delete the physical books that are in my possession?

Hey look everybody! Here's another sucker who never read the fine print on the "free shipping on orders over $25" offer!
posted by orange swan at 12:42 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


As others have pointed out, paper degrades into nothingness, while bits are endlessly, losslessly copyable. He's mistaken his preference and essentialist view of literature for the "way things should be."

And everything is impermanent if you adjust the scale enough.
posted by defenestration at 12:43 PM on January 30, 2012


Eating documents after the fact is double-plus not at all threatening to democracy and public discourse.

Only someone who never read The Name of the Rose all the way through would say that.
posted by orange swan at 12:44 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


gauche Right, so we mostly agree! Because it IS a bad thing that Amazon can decide to suddenly delete some random book that I have on my Kindle, in a way that simply isn't possible with a paperback on my shelf, and if readers don't sit up and take notice of this bad thing and complain about it or take steps to prevent it Amazon will keep doing it and your technological pessimism will be vindicated.

I'm pretty optimistic about the eventual outcome, because of things like this scandal, or the protests that greeted the deletion of 1984 (and what an ironic choice of book to go after on Amazon's part. Almost makes me think it was a marketing ploy). I think there will always be isolated cases of abuse of the power of networked content systems, but ultimately if Amazon or anyone else starts systematically doing these kinds of things the readers will vote with their wallets and take their business elsewhere.

I do think that the current battle in the courts and in legislatures about the future of copyright, IP law, and all that related stuff is incredibly important to the future of our society. It seems increasingly likely that ever cheaper and more sophisticated 3D-printing equipment will soon bring this whole battle over into physical consumer goods. It's an interesting time.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:45 PM on January 30, 2012


And that's great. But you can only do that as long as Sony allows it and/or you don't install whatever patch disables that feature. And maybe you're comfortable with that. But that doesn't mean that other people are not as comfortable, or that they're wrong or ridiculous for thinking that it is a problem.

Now I'm just nitpicking over why I picked Sony over Amazon, but the reason why I picked the Sony model was because it took memory cards and it did not have internet connectivity, so as to avoid Amazonian shenanigans. Sony would have to change the firmware on my laptop to prevent me from loading and unloading my books from my memory cards.

Obviously, Sony took the minority position here, but for once, that daffy company was absolutely right.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:46 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Arguments against things like Kindle ebook deletions are arguments against current implementations of ebooks, not ebooks themselves. I have PDFs on my computer that aren't going anywhere.
posted by defenestration at 12:47 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I for one welcome our book-patching overlords, as someone who grew up on the sort of genre fiction where the authors became not-entirely-affectionately known among their fans for continuity errors that should have been totally fixable if someone could have, post-publication, when someone spotted it, gone back and done a search-and-replace to fix the character's name that got spelled differently in book 2, or whatever. It doesn't necessarily need to be done in a way that destroys the data in the original version, as long as it's just easy to distribute to everybody who *bought* the original version.

And that's aside, yeah, from my three boxes of out-of-edition textbooks that I feel really terrible about just throwing away but have absolutely zero value whatsoever, that were probably about $1500 when purchased (not even new) throughout my undergrad and graduate careers, and that's not counting all the stuff I had to buy brand new but at least was able to sell back. Or the books that reference websites that are no longer at their original locations. Or all those guidebooks that had great travel advice but couldn't keep up-to-date contact info, or test prep books where you had to go online anyway to get a list of updates as long as your arm when the test changed...

I definitely think Amazon deleting stuff without permission is an awful idea, but that's not a problem with ebooks in general, it's a problem with implementation.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:48 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I totally agree with Franzen, and you can put that Colossus of Rhodes you-know-where...ye twats.
posted by Skygazer at 12:48 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eh, more "you kids get off my lawn!" yammer.

We've heard this sort of panicked hyperventilating that the newest change will destroy society for every technical advance since the big stick got replaced by the pointy rock. The doom n gloom crowd have always been wrong before, I see no reason to assume that they'll be right this time.

I'm sure that when printing was invented people bewailed the loss of illuminated manuscripts lovingly hand crafted by monks, and when bound books were invented the devotees of the scroll were up in arms about the inevitable decline of society.

Ebooks do have problems, beginning with the fact that Amazon et al want to keep control of them post sale. There's fixes for those problems and some publishers (Baen comes to mind) do a very good job with ebooks.

As for me, I pirate the ebooks I buy that are DRM encumbered so I've got a real copy and I'm not subject to the whims of the publishers. It's pathetic that I have to do that to get a real copy, but I have hopes that the publishers may be battered into sensibility as time passes (not much hope, neither the RIAA nor the MPAA have yet shown any sense).

As for his "permanency" bit, it looks just like another variant on the argument that since they don't like the aesthetics therefore the tech is evil.
posted by sotonohito at 12:49 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My career output is sharply split into two periods, that time before most things were electronic, and that time after. I still have everything following the transition to beginning work on computers, I have much less from before. Early stuff is also much less accessible. Old reports can be scanned, but turning a scan into a good-quality document is almost more work than simply recreating it from scratch, especially where any kind of graphics are involved.

How many books are lost every year in obscurity? How many had low print runs or unclear ownership? How many old books will make the jump to electronic versions? How many LPs will never be available in digital format? Old videos?

To Google (forex), it doesn't exist if it's not indexable. I can't find it, I can't buy it, I can't read it. I don't worry so much about the digital hole anymore. I worry about the analog one.
posted by bonehead at 12:55 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I even got an ebook reader recently and it's kind-of OK for something I don't care to read too closely. But if you want to do *anything* non-linear (check back on an equation, riffle forward to see how long the chapter is, quickly look at the publication date, etc) it completely sucks ass. It's like reading a book on TV.

I think this really depends on the specific device (and, probably, the formatting of the ebook). I have a Kobo Touch and it (mostly) doesn't have a problem with any of these things.

Flipping back to check on an equation, for example, is a bit of a pain, but certainly not impossible (you can bookmark individual pages, so you don't need to manually "turn" each page everytime that you need to go back); it tells you where you are in the chapter on each page (p 5 of 15, for example) and updates this if you adjust the font size (thus increasing or decreasing the number of pages in the chapter). Flipping through to look at the pub date is pretty simple, too, just to the table of contents menu and BOOM.

While I still think that, for the time being, paper books are the superior technology in a lot of ways, e-books are catching up quickly and are not nearly as problematic (for me) as a lot of people claim.

Although, from some of the complaints like yours that I've been seeing lately, I am glad that I chose a Kobo over a Kindle.
posted by asnider at 12:55 PM on January 30, 2012


Yeah, because anyone would've thunk that the Internet would be threatened with SOPA or PIPA legislation 20 or 30 years ago, and what's to keep something like SOPA/PIPA legislation threatening e-book formats as well. It's not like I think Amazon is going to risk it's profit margin to protect e-books on the Kindle from retroactive tampering, is it? Bezos does not exactly the American Library Association bring to mind.

Try SOPA/PIPA with a printed book, that's already owned, and sitting on a bookshelf. Yeah, go ahead I dare you.

Personally, I think there should be room enough for both mediums to co-exist, and if someone of Franzen's stature and public visiblity comes out on the side of printed books, I say more power to him, he is performing a great service, and I think to dismiss him so quickly with snark is another sign of how little this country does take it's writers seriously.
posted by Skygazer at 12:57 PM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Egyptian Guy #1: "Are you reading a stone tablet?"
Egyptian Guy #2: "Yeah...so what?"
Egyptian Guy #1: "Dude...that's so last century. You really need to get with the times. Papyrus. That's where it's at. Look how portable and lightweight this is, see for yourself."
Egyptian Guy #2:"I don't know guy. With papyrus you sort of lose the ability to control your work, you can change things, carry it around with you, let all kinds of people have access. Not sure I like that."
Egyptian Guy #1:"You're right, it's much better if we stick with chiseling things onto giant pyramids and rocks that weigh a ton. What was I thinking?"
posted by Fizz at 12:58 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


We've heard this sort of panicked hyperventilating that the newest change will destroy society for every technical advance since the big stick got replaced by the pointy rock. The doom n gloom crowd have always been wrong before, I see no reason to assume that they'll be right this time.

Really? Technological advance has never, ever caused society to be worse off than it was before? I'm getting pretty sick of people here dismissing any criticism of technological trends as the out-of-touch ranting of old people, instead of reading the article or interview and question and actually engaging with the critic's ideas.
posted by IjonTichy at 12:58 PM on January 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


How is a CD an eBook? Can you burn an eBook from your Kindle or Nook or iPad to CD? How long do you think that will last?
posted by gauche at 2:27 PM on January 30


I think many people would scream bloody murder if they couldn't get the files off their ereaders onto another device. Not everybody, and maybe not the majority, but enough people that there will always be an economic incentive for some companies to provide that feature.

I think Franzen is talking like a loon in this article, but I'd be interested to read his original comments. As an ebook publisher, I think the industry has real problems with thinking about these issues, and decisions are being made on the basis of protecting economic models that are dying. I wish there were a transcript of Franzen's full comments, as these seem so truncated as to be useless.
posted by joannemerriam at 1:00 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"permanent enough"

How many levels of permanence are there? I thought it was an either/or sort of thing.
posted by ian1977 at 1:01 PM on January 30, 2012


To hell with printed books.
posted by a_girl_irl at 1:04 PM on January 30, 2012


Franzen also wrote a huge screed against experimental and "difficult" fiction in Harper's, railing against the Pynchons and Gaddises of the world and essentially saying that literature shouldn't hurt your poor widdle head by making you think too much. He's basically the Bill O'Reilly ridiculous curmudgeon of the literary world.
posted by naju at 1:05 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worse than that. How long has it been since you bought a textbook? Each new edition makes the old one obsolete, and you can't just update the book, you have to buy the new one.

That would be a perceptible change. I would perceive the loss of, say, the $120 it costs to purchase the textbook new. I've been talking about imperceptible changes this whole time.

Also, law librarians totally have the logistics of this problem solved, FWIW.

Yeah, because anyone would've thunk that the Internet would be threatened with SOPA or PIPA legislation 20 or 30 years ago, and what's to keep something like SOPA/PIPA legislation threatening e-book formats as well.

This is why I don't share your optimism, Wretch729: these safeguards are intrinsic to printed and other permanent media, but electronic media are subject to a deeply broken political process and therefore contingent on the goodwill of strangers and publicly-traded companies. I know we won this round on SOPA, but it will be back around.
posted by gauche at 1:05 PM on January 30, 2012


I think many people would scream bloody murder if they couldn't get the files off their ereaders onto another device.

I haven't tried this lately, but can you -- using iTunes -- get your music off of your iPod / iPhone / iPad and onto a new computer? It's not a rhetorical question: I don't actually know, but it's my understanding that you can't.
posted by gauche at 1:07 PM on January 30, 2012


people that love books hoard them and then badmouth others who collect other sorts of things I read and then give away the book I have read...A book should be like a great love: enjoy it for a short time and then dump it.
posted by Postroad at 1:07 PM on January 30, 2012


I write poetry and this is an additional way to manipulate words in order to create an effect. I say AWESOME. Give me a poem that changes when you read it, or with the seasons, or depending on your location...fuck YES.

Well, that existed before ebooks, in a way.

My BIL bought a kindle this weekend, and it was the first time I got to play with one. It wasn't as awful as I thought it might be. I love my paper books more than any other thing I own and I always will. And I will always buy paper books. But there was something kind of nice about being to to check books out without going to the library (in the rare event that you don't feel like going to the library), about having access to so many books so easily. I think ebooks might be a great solution for the shit you feel like reading but don't need to really "own."

Also, while this is not Franzen's best moment perhaps, I thought both The Corrections and Freedom were pretty great. I'm always surprised at how much hate some people can muster for something that no one is forcing you to consume.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:09 PM on January 30, 2012


its like he doesnt even realize that things only get better! actually twitter is better than any book you can read
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:09 PM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.

Apart from all the things that prevent it. Like simply storing the original file in any write-only medium. Or storing the original file on any device not connected to the net. Or renaming the file to some other descriptive filename so that the patching software is unlikely to be able to correctly identify it without become a criminal computer intrusion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:10 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are pros and cons to physical and digital books.

Imagine a scenario where physical books are still the norm. 10,000 years have passed. The amount of space books would take up is astronomical. And handling them and physically getting to the book you actually want would be troublesome and tedious.

Now imagine a scenario where digital books are the norm. 10,000 years have passed. The amount of space those books would take up is rather small in comparison. And digging through the data and metadata would make getting to the book you actually want a lot easier.

Sure there are potential (and current) issues with the ownership and censorship of digital books, but those problems aren't inextricable from digital books themselves. I don't think they are insurmountable.

There have been problems with the accessibility and censorship of dead-tree books, too. Obviously if you have a collection you've hoarded and just know no-one will take away from you, those problems weren't insurmountable either.
posted by defenestration at 1:11 PM on January 30, 2012


I haven't tried this lately, but can you -- using iTunes -- get your music off of your iPod / iPhone / iPad and onto a new computer?

Not using iTunes, no. But it is possible using third-party tools.
posted by Edison Carter at 1:16 PM on January 30, 2012


As with sticherbeast, I went for a Sony e-reader, for much the same reasons. Still, it seems oddly pointless to me. It is fine for tossing into a bag on a trip and having a choice of a few different things to read, but I doubt I have turned it on even once in the last three months. The last fifty books I read were on paper.

MeFi is pretty evangelistic when it comes to electronic book readers. I am a skeptic, but I want to be convinced. Every time this comes up, I do the same thing: I walk around the the bookshelves and pull down ten books off at random. I then stack them up beside the computer -- ten books that I stopped and looked at in a bookstore, ten books that I leafed through and weighed whether or not they might interest, ten books I paid for and brought home, and ten books I have enjoyed enough to hang on to through multiple moves -- and see if they are available as e-books yet.

Today set a new record: three of them are. Usually it is one or two. Committing to an e-book reader and rejecting everything else seems to me a fantastic way to cut myself off from all sorts of things that interest me. From where I stand, banging the drum for e-books seems pretty much the same as telling me how awesome your cable package is because it includes Spike TV and the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Pursuit Network: no matter how many showings a week you can get of Ocean`s Twelve and The 700 Club and Outdoors with Bob Coker, it still doesn't interest me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:18 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

Speaking as a self-published e-book author who has found mechanical errors in his work even after publishing (as happens with pretty much any book): This dude can kiss my ass. I am insanely grateful that I had the chance to correct that mortifying "you you" goof without having to go through a massive reprinting run.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:19 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


you know what would be cool is if books were like on a subscription model where you paid like a penny per revision via ipad

also a twitter where you can change what it says depending on whos looking at it

also death
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:19 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


With ebooks, there is nothing stopping the author from issuing patches just like we do in software development.

For academic & technical non-fiction, including textbooks, this would be a highly desirable feature. We do this with as many of our reference materials as possible at work.
posted by bonehead at 1:20 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

"He named his previous novel the The Corrections, but perhaps Jonathan Franzen should have saved the title for his latest work.

British first editions of Freedom, the new book by the acclaimed American author, are to be pulped by its publisher, HarperCollins, after it emerged there were errors in the text.

During a publicity event at London's Southbank Centre on Thursday evening, Franzen, 51, admitted to his audience that the 562-page tome enjoying pride of place in every bookstore window in Britain was not, in fact, his finished version, but an earlier edit that had been mistakenly sent to the presses." (link)
posted by reynir at 1:21 PM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Apart from all the things that prevent it. Like simply storing the original file in any write-only medium. Or storing the original file on any device not connected to the net. Or renaming the file to some other descriptive filename so that the patching software is unlikely to be able to correctly identify it without become a criminal computer intrusion.


I already addressed this. That may work for me and you. But it is a non-starter for 99% of the population.

I agree with you guys that the issues are more with current implementations than with digital media itself. But that does not change the fact that there are issues.

I also agree with the use-case in which patching is desired. I already offered my technical solution. Append only files with edits stored as deltas so content isn't lost.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:22 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


IjonTichy wrote "Really? Technological advance has never, ever caused society to be worse off than it was before?"

I think I could make a good case for that, yes. There's frequently a period of adjustment, where society tries to use the old approaches to things to deal with a new situation [1], where things get worse but in the long run it gets better with new technology.

I'm getting pretty sick of people here dismissing any criticism of technological trends as the out-of-touch ranting of old people, instead of reading the article or interview and question and actually engaging with the critic's ideas.

Since the overwhelming majority of such criticisms are the yammer of people complaining that the world is different from the way it was when they were children, I think an out of hand dismissal is to be expected for such things.

As for the article in question, I read it and I think it's exactly as I characterized it. he doesn't raise any arguments, he just yammers about how since things are different they must, inevitably, be worse. He also doesn't seem to have any real understanding of how ebooks work.

He's just a grumpy old man yelling about how awful kids these days are.


[1] The period of the Industrial Revolution is a good (bad?) example of this. In an agrarian society work is typically done at one of two paces, either ambling along when things are normal, or dawn to dusk full out effort when there's real work to be done. Planting is a time of full out dawn to dusk work, as is harvest. In between there's plenty of work, but it isn't done at a breakneck pace.

Likewise, child labor was a non-abusive fact of life.

Then we got industrialization and that old, agrarian, attitude towards work produced the horrors of the early industrial age. There's ALWAYS lots of work to be done at a factory, so the agrarian dawn to dusk work mentality kicked in and we got 16 hour factory shifts. Kids worked on the farm, so they should work in factories, right? Work is work, right?

And things were miserable for a while. But, slowly and with much opposition, we changed the way things were done.
posted by sotonohito at 1:27 PM on January 30, 2012


Jonathon Franzen doesn't just hate ebooks - he thinks they are having a detrimental effect on the world Jonathan Franzen
posted by unSane at 1:29 PM on January 30, 2012


This, of course, alludes to you:

For someone lamenting the rise attention paid to things like Twitter over books, you sure go straight for the Twitter-style snark over thorough, book-like argumentation.

u r soo ironic
posted by defenestration at 1:30 PM on January 30, 2012


that is because i have surrendered, defenestration
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:31 PM on January 30, 2012


I'm old but I'm not grumpy at all, and I've been reading ebooks for a long while now with mostly ok feelings about it (super convenient on the subway). I'm about to give 'em up and go back to books. I recently read a string of wonderful literary fictions on a Kindle (my third) and I was ... unsatisfied with the reading experience for each book. I loved these books, cried even, and it pains me not to have them now, lying around as part of my life, my tableau. I can't close a Kindle and hug it to my chest. I can't flip the pagesk and stop here and there, lazily, randomly. I can't see the object of my intense interest and affection lying around weeks later and be happy for the experience of it. I can't hand it to one of my kids and say, You've gotta read this.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:33 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


you can put that Colossus of Rhodes you-know-where.

On Franzen's lawn, majestically jacking off and shouting "BLAH BLAH BLAH I AM JONATHAN FRANZEN FAMOUS AUTHOR BLAH BLAH BLAH LISTEN TO ME BLAH BLAH BLAH"?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:34 PM on January 30, 2012


Can I just say, really great writers don't have to be endlessly asinine and provocative in order to promote their own work? Geez, if you want to be taken seriously, and want someday to be considered a great writer (hint: if people say that and you're still alive, it doesn't count) grow up already.
posted by newdaddy at 1:35 PM on January 30, 2012


I personally do not enjoy eBooks, but instead of obsessing over the means of transmission/consumption and trying to convince everyone to adhere to my subjective preference, I am simply happy that some people continue to read books at all. Ultimately I think a reader is a reader is a reader, and it doesn't matter if she reads it on a screen or on a piece of paper or with her fingertips.

This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

House of Leaves?
posted by Houyhnhnm at 1:36 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"If printed books do become obsolete in the next 50 years, Franzen is pleased that at least he won't have to see it. "One of the consolations of dying is that [you think], 'Well, that won't have to be my problem'," he said. "

Ugh. I had to study Franzen in my second year at university and could never ever understand why my lecturer was so in love with him. The man is a pompous and overrated moron.
posted by New England Cultist at 1:36 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, it's not easy to sidestep the class/justice issues of e-books being for people with e-readers, and people with e-readers being generally in the developed world where you can get electricity and internet connectivity easily.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:37 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

This is honestly a brilliant novel waiting to happen.
posted by naju at 1:38 PM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


And think about this: with the propagation of cheap information storage, would any serious person make the case that thousands of digital copies of the Bible would be less accurate than the thousands of analog copies we currently sift through? As long as the storage is decentralized, digital copies would provide a much more complete record.

It was literally one of the most important books in the world, and they still couldn't accurately copy it, or keep it safe from the ravages of the sun, mold, dust, critters, etc. Now I can run a diff between copy A and copy B in about 10 seconds.
posted by deanklear at 1:41 PM on January 30, 2012


@naju i think those are called video games
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just replace titles with MD5 hashes and you're set. Though this fetishization of unchangeability is a bit odd coming from the author of books titled The Corrections and Freedom.
posted by chortly at 1:45 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If printed books do become obsolete in the next 50 years, Franzen is pleased that at least he won't have to see it. "One of the consolations of dying is that [you think], 'Well, that won't have to be my problem'," he said. "

Ugh. I had to study Franzen in my second year at university and could never ever understand why my lecturer was so in love with him. The man is a pompous and overrated moron.


You'll be 50 someday too, and understand a little better.
posted by aught at 1:46 PM on January 30, 2012


Agrippa (a book of the dead)
posted by Artw at 1:47 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


gauche I certainly take your point, but I think there are signs of hope (one, two, three, four random examples) that we've gotten to a point where the network is distributed enough to be self-repairing when faced by supression.

Amazon being able to pull that edition of 1984 was bad (although apparently their reason for doing so wasn't totally out of line) but by the same token thanks to the less stringent requirements of copyright in other countries, you can easilly download the whole book in seconds from a server hosted in, for example, Canada. Compare that to the predicament of a reader stuck in pre-internet wherevertown when some local loon gets the 4 copies the local library and school had tossed in the incinerator. Unless her uncle slips her a copy, she's out of luck. I think in this (admittedly hypothetical) case we are better off today.

Oh and you can transfer your files from iDevice to a new computer, but Apple makes it deliberately difficult and it's limited by your Apple ID and far from an ideal process.

This, of course... I think it actually is pretty easy to sidestep the class/justice issues of ebooks, because as I argued above above nothing about ebooks prevents you from buying a regular printed book. In fact doing so is easier now than it has ever been. Even if your town doesn't have a book store, it likely has a library. (If it doesn't that's a whole other rant.)
posted by Wretch729 at 1:47 PM on January 30, 2012


This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

This is honestly a brilliant novel waiting to happen.


Delany already wrote Dhalgren, almost 40 years ago now.
posted by aught at 1:48 PM on January 30, 2012


"BLAH BLAH BLAH I AM JONATHAN FRANZEN FAMOUS AUTHOR BLAH BLAH BLAH LISTEN TO ME BLAH BLAH BLAH"?

I met a reader of an antique format
Who said: "One ponderous, unending novel of man
Stands in the bookstore. Near it on the carpet,
in cardboard, a promo stand-up sits, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its photog well those diatribes read
Which yet survive, stamped on his lifeless blog,
The hand that penned them and the heart that bored.
And on the jacket these words appear:
`My name is Jonathan Franzen, Famous Author:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing real remains. Round the Continent
Of those colossal banks, citizens inattentive,
The Androids and iPhones stretch far away".
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Franzen is an utter hack and whenever I hear a breathless comment about his genius, I salivate in anticipation of the inevitable day when everyone realizes he's an utter hack.

That said, I kind of think he's right about e-books, though I think it with the irrational, reactionary part of my brain I usually try not to listen to.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Takes me back 25 years, first quarter of English Lit grad school. Word processors were just becoming common, and grad students, especially the arty English ones, loved to complain about how computers were ruining writing, about how real writers used typewriters, or pen and paper, you know, about how you have to feel your words. It was baloney then and it's baloney now.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:54 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Despite all these comments, here is one thing I am not seeing here, in all the comments by those of us literate folks who populate Metafilter Town. E-books are not as popular among the less monied classes. Not that they are incredibly expensive, but they are expensive enough to be stolen. Leave a book on a table and walk away for five minutes. It will still be there when you get back. Try that at your local inner city high school with an e-reader.
posted by kozad at 1:58 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


IIRC Amazon changed it's syncing process after the 1984 thing so if a book disappeared from online - as happened with the 99c version of 1984, it wouldn't be removed locally. Of course if you delete it locally yourself and try and get a new one you're shit out of luck.

TBH I think thinking in terms of whether or not a book is on this or that device or piece of paper in the hands of readers right now as a measure of it's permanence is a little silly since it's going to have little bearing 100 years from now, what is important is that there be some way that a copy is preserved into that archive phase.
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on January 30, 2012


Not using iTunes, no. But it is possible using third-party tools.

Actually, you don't even need to use third party tools, you just need to set your iPod to "data mode" or whatever it's called,, and then index the hidden folders where the actual files are stored. That's how I recovered my music when my old laptop died. It's actually fairly easy.

Of course, most of my music is also stored on physical media (either because I bought it that way or because I backed it up), so this function was more about the convenience of not having to re-rip all of my CDs than about wresting my music from Apple's iron grip.
posted by asnider at 2:00 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kozad I think we have started to discuss this in a few comments.

The Franzen comments linked to in the OP argue that eBooks as a medium are inherently bad. I say they are not, and that nothing about the advent of eBooks (the use of which is a matter of preference) prevents your hypothetical inner-city student from buying a used paperback or loaning one from a library. Poor funding of school and public libraries is not the fault of ebooks. Nor would a hypothetical situation where a school required the use of an eReader be the fault of ebooks as a medium. (Though it would clearly create a discriminatory situation against those with less means.)
posted by Wretch729 at 2:09 PM on January 30, 2012


This, of course, alludes to you: Seriously, though, it's not easy to sidestep the class/justice issues of e-books being for people with e-readers, and people with e-readers being generally in the developed world where you can get electricity and internet connectivity easily.

It kind of surprises me that there hasn't been some kind of initiative ala OLPC to make solar powered ereaders, get some publishing companies to donate textbooks and such to load on them, and distribute them in developing nations. They're naturally low-powered anyway, so it seems like it would be kind of a natural development.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 2:10 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


OLPC is an ereader. Any computer is, especially if it can connect to Project Gutenberg or Open Library.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wretch729: OLPC is an ereader. Any computer is, especially if it can connect to Project Gutenberg or Open Library.

Yeah, I thought about saying something along those lines (the OLPC had a screen that could be e-ink or lcd, didn't it?). But a dedicated e-reader might be easier to deploy.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 2:17 PM on January 30, 2012


It's worth noting Franzen's work is available in electronic editions.
posted by jscalzi at 2:19 PM on January 30, 2012


As far as class issues go, give it a while. Computer technology tends to follow the pattern of starting outrageously expensive and then plummeting in price until it's almost free. Right this second, for example, you can purchase a fully functional (if somewhat low power) Linux PC for $25. (Raspberry Pi)

Right now, yes, ebook readers are more expensive. But I think that in less than a decade so we'll see the price on readers drop drastically.

As for the third world, the sad fact is that information infrastructure is significantly cheaper and easier to drop into a place than most other sorts of infrastructure. It's already cheaper to give people internet access than it is to give them water, and as the price of computing drops we will see internet spreading planetwide well before we see running water spreading planetwide.

Right now ebooks to the third world would be a cruel joke. In 10 years it'll be the most cost effective way to get books to the third world.
posted by sotonohito at 2:20 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


A phone is an ereader, and phones slip through class barriers like anybodies business.
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think to dismiss him so quickly with snark is another sign of how little this country does take it's writers seriously.

Its tragic!
posted by brain_drain at 2:23 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jesus, ask the Dark Ages and the ancient Greeks if those various /incompatible/ book formats they used were permanent in any real sense.

While it is true that digital formats are more sensitive to various rots compared with physical objects, this does not justify abandoning them because they also gives us tremendous benefits. And physical objects have their own limitations that we have become blind to because they are ubiquitous.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:24 PM on January 30, 2012


I loved these books, cried even, and it pains me not to have them now, lying around as part of my life, my tableau.

Why not use the try-and-buy model, then? That is what I did with ASOIAF (no, thanks) and Artist of the Floating World (yes, please).

I am about to finish Infinite Jest on my iPad. Anyone who says they never needed a dictionary with that book is lying or not paying attention, and that alone was worth whatever else the ebook format gets wrong.

Ctrl-F (or the Android search button) is far more valuable to me than a dictionary. I'm pretty sure that after the loss of the physical medium itself, Ctrl-F is the single biggest benefit for e-books.

Ever had a conversation with someone that reminded you, "oh hey, that's just like that great line from Infinite Jest!" ... and then tried to find the line in the hardcover book? I have. And it sucks.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:25 PM on January 30, 2012


mothershock: This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

This reminds me of a banner one of my high-school English teachers had in her classroom:

"WHEN YOU ARE NOT READING IT, THIS SENTENCE IS IN SPANISH."

I think she probably wanted to be a college prof :D But I've brought it up in discussions over the years--certainly during my Lit Crit classes in college when we talked about transience and impermanence and such, or Barthes, or Derrida.
posted by tzikeh at 2:30 PM on January 30, 2012


Electronic copies have their problems, but honestly, the accessibility advantages have largely won me over to thinking they have an important place in our literary ecosystem.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:30 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, are there any good ereader handlings of footnotes?
posted by Artw at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2012


Has Franzen never heard of Wite-Out? It's really not very expensive and allows one to alter paper-media pretty easily.

Here is a project idea: purchase fifty copies of a Franzen novel; make copious changes using your preferred brand of liquid paper; and resale at used book stores.

No idea is perfectly safe from editing, correction, change, or loss -- regardless of the medium.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:33 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get why people react to these kinds of sentiments as they do, but of course digital is ephemeral. There are entire digital standards from less the 30 years ago that are unrecoverable now because the machines are no longer made, or because a certain company used a proprietary scheme that nobody has access to any more, etc. Digital data has to be migrated, transferred, updated, moved from one scheme to another, etc, and basically western civilization has to persist indefinitely to ensure that you will always have access to the data stored on a Kindle.

I mean, books have their vulnerabilities too, sure, but at the end of the day they just have to not get burned or thrown in water for a long period of time.
posted by anazgnos at 2:38 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Jonathan Franzen's juvenile prose creates a world in which nothing important can happen."
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:42 PM on January 30, 2012


But really, pirating the books or making your own backup is a non-starter for 99% of people who are going to buy ebooks.

Well, but how many people of all those that buy paper books actually keep their old books? Most people either give them away, resell them, or have their kids get rid of them when they die. And lots of those books are lost to mold and water damage or just people tossing them into the trash because they don't give a rip and don't want it.

The copies of old books we have now are a fraction of those actually published, even 50 years ago. With ebooks it will probably be the same; obscure titles will be saved by a few who loved them, the rest will be lost to deletion.

What we really need are more easy duplication and storage tools for old file formats...not just books but photos and movies and music and documents. We have a lot of that already, but formats keep shifting and stable data storage isn't as simple as storing old books. Yet.
posted by emjaybee at 2:44 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


"My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday."

-- G.K. Chesterton
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:49 PM on January 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


India's $47 Aakash tablet tops 1.4 million sales in two weeks
posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems that Franzen is always coming out against any development that democratizes reading and places the reader and author on the same rung of the ladder.

The reason Franzen gets listened to is because he has the perfect mix of Midwestern judginess and Northeastern severity to be able to say these things with the maximum amount of pomposity possible.

I always picture Franzen's ideal world as him, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis sitting around drinking tea while wearing Greek tragedy masks. A lackey would be carving their words into a stone tablet that he would then read from to satisfy the literary thirsts.

Franzen is a super talented author, but also extremely unlikable
posted by reenum at 2:51 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ich liebe Gigapedia! eBooks vor! Informationen wollen frei sein! Piratenpartei vor!
posted by jeffburdges at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2012


It's worth noting Franzen's work is available in electronic editions.

The article in the FPP noted that.
posted by asnider at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recall reading one of those dystopian future novels in junior high. (I thought it was 1984, but can't find a reference.) It had a long foreward discussing how, over the last 20 or 30 years of its publication, various (mild by today's standards) swear words were eliminated. So, sure, the publishers cannot edit a book on your shelf, but they can certainly do so on subsequent editions. And, I would argue, it is much harder to detect these changes in a paper edition - an open ebook format is easy to hash or diff.

Which book was that? Damn.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 3:33 PM on January 30, 2012


Well they are trying to do that to .. er.. Tom Sawyer? Huckleberry Fin? One of the two, I think HF removing Injun' and er... Ni***r from the text.
posted by edgeways at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2012


These Premises Are Alarmed: I recall reading one of those dystopian future novels in junior high. (I thought it was 1984, but can't find a reference.) It had a long foreward discussing how, over the last 20 or 30 years of its publication, various (mild by today's standards) swear words were eliminated. So, sure, the publishers cannot edit a book on your shelf, but they can certainly do so on subsequent editions. And, I would argue, it is much harder to detect these changes in a paper edition - an open ebook format is easy to hash or diff. Which book was that? Damn.

When I was in highschool, we read copies of Fahrenheit 451 with all the swear words blacked out with a sharpie. The irony was not lost on us.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 3:39 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

GASLIGHT: THE EBOOK, by mothershock

Now available on Kindle..and like, Kindle, I guess.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:46 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like it was actually F451 that was censored by the publisher (in addition to kittenmarlowe's teachers).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 3:49 PM on January 30, 2012


OKAY, I'LL DO IT.

All joking aside, it's kind of a tantalizing idea. I mean, the novel coming out in March has some interesting subtle and not-so-subtle things that happen, depending on where you are in a certain chapter and where you are in the book (triggered text events, triggered music). But the question of how to build something that actually changes, or seems to change, that isn't an app -- which means it could be read on a non-iOS platform -- and that STILL works as a story (or, if you like, as literature)... That could be really interesting.
posted by mothershock at 4:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Javascript is supported by EPUB, though not by most EPUB readers. That situation is likely to change, for instance Apple's new ebook format is basically EPUB and features JavaScript widgets, so they presumably can read it in regular EPUB too now - what I don't know is if you get to store anything, which you'd need to make this idea work. Kindle has it's own new Javascript supporting format as well, but I beleive they've been cagey about the details and it may only work properly on the Fire (where they use it for comics)
posted by Artw at 4:21 PM on January 30, 2012


And digging through the data and metadata would make getting to the book you actually want a lot easier.

Yeah, Exabyte drives do have a fast scan for directory volume tags.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:29 PM on January 30, 2012


But the question of how to build something that actually changes, or seems to change, that isn't an app -- which means it could be read on a non-iOS platform -- and that STILL works as a story (or, if you like, as literature)... That could be really interesting.

The term you're looking for is 'Choose Your Own Adventure.'
posted by shakespeherian at 4:32 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in highschool, we read copies of Fahrenheit 451 with all the swear words blacked out with a sharpie. The irony was not lost on us.

When I was in high school, we read copies of Farenheit 451 as they burned slowly in our hands, hot ash spilling into our laps.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:35 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ray Bradbury updated Farenheit 451 so that it isn't about censorship.
posted by Artw at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2012


Nah, not that exactly, shakespeherian. But I love what you're doing with that on G+.
posted by mothershock at 4:41 PM on January 30, 2012


-- Franzen is an utter hack and whenever I hear a breathless comment about his genius, I salivate in anticipation of the inevitable day when everyone realizes he's an utter hack.

-- Ugh. I had to study Franzen in my second year at university and could never ever understand why my lecturer was so in love with him. The man is a pompous and overrated moron.

Love these comments. Yes, he is a hack who is doing a serviceable job of masquerading as an Important Writer.
posted by jayder at 4:56 PM on January 30, 2012


jscalzi's thoughts on the matter are worth sharing.
posted by asnider at 5:03 PM on January 30, 2012


Maybe Franzen isn't saying what really pisses him off. Could he have come across unfavorable reader comments on the Kindle editions of his works? Is that what he really means by modification of electronic editions?

It's a rather inconspicuous modification (I myself usually skip the comments).

With paper books, the author will never see readers' comments scribbled in the margins of the pages unless he is self-obsessed and masochistic enough to visit all the used bookstores in the country in order to page through the abandoned copies of his works.
posted by bad grammar at 5:10 PM on January 30, 2012


Silly post-gutenberg man forgets all about Homer.
posted by stp123 at 5:45 PM on January 30, 2012


Yes, he is a hack who is doing a serviceable job of masquerading as an Important Writer.

No, it's worse and more tragic than this, because it's not a masquerade: he genuinely believes himself to be that Important Writer. There is a Pnin-like story waiting to be written about the secret sadness of being Franzen: the dire, unrelieved, humorless self-importance; the conviction that he is a Cassandra bearing unpopular truths when his work makes bestseller lists by rewarding, not challenging, its readers' prejudices; all that agonizing garment-rending over the writing process, but finally just producing middlebrow comfort reading. There is something so perfectly Swarthmorean about his unshakeable conviction of his work's deep intellectualism and importance (Saving American Culture Is Serious Business!) that I imagine the story will be titled The Eternal Swattie.
posted by RogerB at 5:50 PM on January 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


While I was reading this thread, my computer froze. It does this at least twice a day, sometimes more. I have to hold the power button in and do a hard reset, because it becomes totally unresponsive. It's a memory issue or something; it's done this for as long as I've had it, but it's gotten worse this year.

Printed books are subject to entropy and general disrepair like any other physical thing, and poorly printed books do tend to age badly, but they're more permanent objects by virtue of not being dependent on specialized formats and hardware that only have cultural relevance for about a decade, require energy to power that won't always exist and don't even work right within their infinitesimally tiny stamp in time. Five hundred years from now, some contemporary printed books will remain for Future People to gawk at, but it's hard to imagine a particular media format lasting more than fifty years.
posted by byanyothername at 6:16 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Think of Franzen as a kind of snuggie of the soul.
posted by The Whelk at 6:18 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Five hundred years from now, some contemporary printed books will remain for Future People to gawk at, but it's hard to imagine a particular media format lasting more than fifty years.

ASCII text will turn 50 next year, and are still quite readable by any modern computer. And, of course, you can easily store a book that way.

(Any other formatting is nice, but unnecessary to most books)

Yes, you have to copy the bits to new storage medium occasionally, but that's true for books as well, stop printing them and they won't last forever (especially if you don't do work to store them properly).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:27 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think HTML might turn out to be pretty durable compared to formats like .doc[x]. But the problem remains that you need a working machine to make digital text visible. It's kind of like the situation in Pohl's Heechee novels where we are sitting on a pile of alien data, but we don't know that it's data. A modern person encountering a book printed in 1400 A.D. will recognize it for what it is even if we can't read the language, but what would the person from 1400 A.D. think if you dropped an 8 gigabyte USB thumb drive into their hand?
posted by localroger at 6:35 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


ASCII text will turn 50 next year, and are still quite readable by any modern computer.

And what about all those EBCDIC texts?

I once spent several months retyping EBCDIC texts into an ASCII system because nobody could figure out an easier, cheaper way to port them.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:36 PM on January 30, 2012


Franzen's pony is no edit window.
posted by snofoam at 6:54 PM on January 30, 2012


I've been reading books since I could read, so i'd say for just under 40 years. Last year was the first time I've read eBooks. I am still capable of reading printed books but whenever I can, I'll read a book in ePUB.
posted by juiceCake at 7:57 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bemoaned the death of print books until this winter when I finally got an ereader because my house is small and crammed with things to read.

There are downsides to ebooks. One mildly depressing one is that browsing a virtual selection doesn't have the same tendency toward exciting random discoveries that looking through a bookstore has for me. Sure, there are plenty of good recommendations, but there doesn't seem to be an e-equivalent to finding some random book that calls to you from the shelf.

In time, one might show up, but I'm not sure what it'll be.
posted by drezdn at 8:15 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Plus, e-readers are ineffectual spider killers.
posted by drezdn at 8:16 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

This is a great idea.

I'm pretty sure you could actually do it today, if the book was written in PostScript ... unfortunately I don't know of any eBook readers that have a PostScript renderer, only printers, and that sort of defeats the purpose. Apparently EPUB3 is going to have support for embedded JavaScript, which opens up a lot of possibilities for interactive literature and customization.

"Procedural literature" seems like it's a wide-open field...
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:59 PM on January 30, 2012


I think Franzen's rhetoric is pretty overblown about this issue, but then I get really curmudgeonly about this trend toward invisible scroll bars. I want to know where the fuck I am in a stream of information! Books are good at that. Where you are is immediate and visceral. You can flip ahead to see how far you are from the end of a chapter, things like that. Little things but they add up.

I feel like there is this push to make the stream of information seem endless, with no beginning or end, and that this is more than a little bit dangerous. It keeps us distracted. Information loses context and therefore meaning. It can give the illusion of abundance when there is none. It becomes easier for small, valuable things to get lost.
posted by speicus at 9:48 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Plus, e-readers are ineffectual spider killers.
posted by drezdn 7 hours ago [+]


And terrible coasters.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:59 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


This just makes me want to write an ebook that changes subtly every time it's accessed by the reader.

This is a great idea.


Interactive fiction has existed for decades.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:22 AM on January 31, 2012


There's a pretty solid distinction between Choose Your Own Adventure and a linear book that switches wording choices and plot points every time you open it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:27 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I haven't seen that concept done with interactive fiction, which from what I understand tends to involve either text parsers or hypertext or the like. And CYOA is completely different.
posted by naju at 8:36 AM on January 31, 2012


The closest thing I can think of is scripted theater with improv elements, or the ending of Clue.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:42 AM on January 31, 2012


@Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish

so kind of like spelunky does with levels only with words
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:43 AM on January 31, 2012


There's a pretty solid distinction between Choose Your Own Adventure and a linear book that switches wording choices and plot points every time you open it.

Well, I suppose the latter could be interesting, but you'd have to find some way to actively encourage readers to go back and reread... say, by making the end of the book call back to the beginning the way Infinite Jest does. Otherwise, what would it matter? Most of the time, the pages of the book I'm reading could erase themselves the second after I'm done reading them and I would never notice.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:51 AM on January 31, 2012


I think Franzen's rhetoric is pretty overblown about this issue, but then I get really curmudgeonly about this trend toward invisible scroll bars. I want to know where the fuck I am in a stream of information! Books are good at that. Where you are is immediate and visceral. You can flip ahead to see how far you are from the end of a chapter, things like that. Little things but they add up.

Yeah, I remember when I first saw this feature. I think it was Microsoft Word 1.0 for the PC that first put a little tic on the right side of the edit window to indicate where you your cursor was in relation to the whole document. This was a text-only so no graphic scroll bars, you still used PageUp and PageDown keys. Microsoft called this a "thumb." The metaphor was that this was like your thumb holding down the page of a book, if you closed the book on your thumb it would show you the relative position in the whole thickness of the book. I would have called it a bookmark, but I think they used that term for some other feature.

I never really appreciated the thumb since I mostly wrote short business documents and letters. The thumb would jump around dramatically when I moved around the short doc. But my screenwriter clients loved it, they were always scrolling around a 110 page document and needed to know their position relative to the end.

I think it was version 2 that introduced a variable height "handle" that would indicate how much of the entire document you were seeing in the edit window. Again, it was blocky text graphics, but it seemed to make sense. Now this GUI trick went beyond the real-world metaphor of a thumb in a book.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:08 AM on January 31, 2012


Hang on, I know this guy. He wrote that book Freedom that I bought to read ON MY KINDLE.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:06 PM on January 31, 2012


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