Monday, October 10, 2011

Paper books and beauty

Laurie, a friend of mine is getting a Kindle, but is not a tech fan. She just sent me the following comment and dared me to publish it. :-)

I look forward to downloading classics on the Kindle.
But I will always love the feel of a book.
The same with watching a woman knitting during,  is for me,
watching a person holding a book reading.  It is deeply relaxing,
not the same as watching someone hold a technological device reading.
Yesterday we took a long drive in the Catskills,  a gorgeous warm Indian summer day.
We passed at one point an old farmhouse,  on the porch was a really old man sitting in the sun reading a book. It was very beautiful to me.

It's a viewpoint many people share, it has been one of the central objections heard all over, since the Kindle started getting popular. 
Me, I think the love one has for books is primarily for the content, the wonderful stories and wisdom we have read in the past, and that love is projected on the object. Sure, if one takes out the content from an ereader or tablet, all you have is plastic and metal, but similarly if you remove the content from a paper book, all you have is the remains of dead trees. 

As a side note, admittedly a paper book can be a beautiful object too. And I have a handful of those, special editions, they are wonderful. But most books are mediocre-looking, and I bought them for the stories or knowledge, not for the object. 
Some might make gadgets which are beautiful too. For me, the iPhone 4 is very beautiful, actually it's one of the main reasons I bought it, despite not having bought an iPhone prior to that. If' one's taste is different, well maybe somebody will make different-looking gadgets just as beautiful as a good book. Or one might put it in a case, there are quite a few cases on the market which are hand-made of wood and such, and very beautiful. 

(the vertical objects are cases, not books) 

Well, we will probably never get beyond the apparent schism that some people like myself have a greater affinity for technology than for nature (a book being made of natural materials, though you need machinery to do it), and for some people it's the opposite. I can understand the other one, in fact I have sometimes felt a little ashamed that I didn't have it in me to seek out the great Outdoors and be uplifted by it. But ah well, we are what we are. 

Some people feel that nature is warm and technology is cold. I can certainly see the viewpoint, but I don't feel the same way. Perhaps the reason I love technology is that it enhances (in some cases) human communication, and this makes me feel a Mind out there. Maybe others feel a Mind in nature. 
And of course there's a mind behind Everything, otherwise it wouldn't exist. 


Bruce said...

I think a lot of it is what technology people grow up with. For some people, old video game consoles that they played when they were young give them a warm feeling. I imagine that some people who are in their early 30's today will get a warm feeling from laptops in 15 years, after most people have switched to tablets or something newer.

Timo Lehtinen said...

It's not just a matter of beauty, it seems. Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows presents considerable scientific research on how the brain reacts to screen vs. paper. The key findings, as summarized by C. J. Chilvers in his article Back to paper, back to work, are:

· To your brain, the medium is more important than the message. The medium (paper or screen, for example) has a direct and measurable effect on the synapses in your brain.

· Reading on screen re-wires the brain for shallower thinking and hinders comprehension.

· Reading on paper leads to deeper thinking and a better connection with long-term memory.

· Distraction is the cause of the shallower thinking and distraction can be something as simple as a single link within a hypertext document. No banner ads are needed for your brain to re-wire.

· The omnipresence of Google has only led to even shallower thinking.

· The suspected cause of deeper thinking, better focus and enhanced comprehension when using paper is the lack of distraction. Only when you’re allowed to “get lost” in something, can you activate all the areas of the brain required for the deepest thinking.

That last sentence (emhasis mine) puts it best, I think.

This is something that we have instinctively known for decades. If the media were equal, there would be no reason to print out important documents (say, legal letters) for proofreading. And yet, this continues to be standard practice everywhere.

Laurie said...

I very much appreciate this comment Timo. It said what I couldn't but tried to say. Eo, you say you think it is the content of the book not the book itself that appeals, but I feel it is the medium as well as the message. The whole body (incarnate Mind in my language) is what appeals on the deepest level here. Perhaps it is a male/female distinction as well? Mind/Body dichotomy? (which doesn't exist in truth). So, would you prefer an e.mail dialogue about sitting with a friend having coffee, or the person actually sitting there?
This is probably a poor analogy, but I feel we're advancing as humanity through awakened Body as well.

The animal side of us, that smells pine forests and feels sunlight in the trees would not be interested in the green Kindle cover. My son has one, and loves it however.


Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Well, it might be connected with the body/nature side being exceedingly uncomfortable for me. You'd say, well work on, bring it out, heal it. Well, I'm working on it, but it goes insanely deep. It's like trying to train oneself to realize that a hotel fire is just another illusion and that one can walk into it unscathed with the correct mindset. No exaggeration, it's that solid to me.

But I don't mind much, many things work for me better, so I work primarily with those.

Timo Lehtinen said...

I don't see how the sights and smells of nature really relate to the subject at hand: the immersiveness of reading from paper vs. from screen.

I repeat: when attorneys and business managers want to make sure they got the wording in a letter exactly right, they print the text out on paper, and then reread it from there. Often they do this while sitting on their normal (uncomfortable) office chair, merely focusing their eyes on the paper instead of their computer monitor. If the screen was just as good a medium, there would never be any need to do this. After all, you still have to come back to the screen to make any corrections you discover during the proof read.

Nature is wonderful, but people don't print out proof copies so they could take their reading material with them outside (some do, of course, but that's not the point), but rather to be able to read from paper instead of a screen, regardless of where they are located.

Also, office paper, and most of the paper stocks books are printed on, are made from pulp and chemicals that make it smell bad and generally look very unnatural. The immersive effect still remains. It is because the text is distraction free, permanent. You can not change it or switch it to some other content. This forces the brain to deeper thinking and better connection with long-term memory.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

It might be true, but I don't see it myself. I don't print out to edit or proofread, and I rarely printed out to read anything, and after I got my iPad I never do.

I can't immerse any better on paper either. It could be my ability to do so is permanently damaged after over 15 years as a Net freak.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

If paper has these qualities, which I find likely, I want to know *why*, and how we fix the screens.

I'm sure one issue is sharpness. That's just a matter of pixel density.

But the backlight issue is more mysterious to me, why is a backlit image so much more stressful to some people than than reflected light? I don't recall seeing an adequate explanation or even the question asked, which is weird since the issue is so much discussed.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

We touched upon it before:

.... but I don't think we got any answers which explained it satisfactorily. Possibly nobody knows.

By the way, readability got mixed up with aesthetics, I suppose because the original mail from Laurie regarded it as: reading on an electronic device can't be as beautiful an experience as reading a paper book, which I don't want to accept, at least not in a longer view.

Laurie said...

For me, the sights and smells of nature have as much to do with this discussion as the scientific findings of brain synapses and distractability / deep thinking. It is all related. The original post was entitled "Paper books and beauty." Beauty must be in there,
perhaps unverifiably.

me? I think more deeply and quietly when I hold a book; we'll see what the Kindle does, I'll give it a chance.


Laurie said...

a beautiful connection is not lost when we remember the question, Whom or What does this knowledge and growing technology serve? Does this knowledge serve itself, winding further and further away from Source and away from the deepest purpose and meaning of why we are here? or does it serve love?

Timo Lehtinen said...

Laurie, after my comment starting “It's not just a matter of beauty, it seems.” I figured we'd shifted the subject. After all, no one had (yet) managed to counter Eo's point about beautiful handmade cases for the ereader.

I believe the biggest difference is the fixedness of the medium. Words on paper have been “cast”, whereas a screen remains in a state of flux. I.e. unlike a printed book, a screen does not represent those words. It merely happens to display them at that point in time.

This makes a big difference for the mind: instead of immersing itself in the contents, it goes: hmm... what else could this screen display?.

A beautifully bound book is a symbol of its contents. This too aids long term memory. When I think about my favourite books, the first thing that comes to mind are the covers.

The problem with equipping an ereader with custom leather covers is that they are the same for every book. There's nothing the mind can associate with a specific set of contents.

So, a beautiful ereader cover does not really serve that much of a purpose for the owner; other than perhaps with regards to ones external image: i.e. being see holding a more beautiful looking object.

Other than that, it's not the same. Being disconnected from the contents, it does not have any magickal properties. In fact, it's kind of fake.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I sure don't feel that way.

Timo Lehtinen said...

Eolake said: I sure don't feel that way.

Which way? You didn't agree with any of my 235 words?

Or you don't think making a plastic tablet look like a leather bound book is not fakery?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

"Or you don't think making a plastic tablet look like a leather bound book is fakery?"

No I don't. A beautiful case is beauty for me, and not just status or whatever.

Paper books and plastic (or metal/glass), as well as stone tablets and whatever one can do, are all simply simply ways to give form to content, to thoughts, and none of them are more or less fake than the rest.

Both a car and a bicycle transports people, and one is not more or less fake than the other, they just achieve the goal in very different ways.

Back when Domai was very new, I was interviewed by a Danish magazine about it, and the lady who interviewed me said that she was surprised by the Warmth she felt from the site, she had not thought anything on a computer could show such warmth.
That had never occurred to me, a medium is just a medium, I don't tend to discriminate between them like that.

Timo Lehtinen said...

Paper books and plastic (or metal/glass), as well as stone tablets and whatever one can do, are all simply simply ways to give form to content, to thoughts, and none of them are more or less fake than the rest.

Perhaps I didn't explain myself well enough: in fixed media (regardless of material), you are indeed giving form to content--i.e. to the thoughts expressed.

But in pimping your ereader, you are giving form to the ereader itself, not the content. For the form remains unchanged regardless of which thoughts you download/read.

Laurie said...

Timo, very interesting points regarding "the fixedness of the medium." I see this, never thought about it like this before.

well said to all of it. I enjoyed your thoughts.

re. "fakery" I'm hearing Eo.
Perhaps "fake" is not the most exact word for what you were saying, at least it wasn't for me.
I was intrigued though by the use of the term "magical properties"
I think I get what you mean here.

Of my favorite books, I also remember every cover. I am reading now the Penguin Classics Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence.
The cover painting is exquisite.

This thread has been very informative and interesting to me,
thank you.


Laurie said...

Eolake, I hear you saying something like this: beauty, form and function are an indivisible whole which cannot be separated, except at the risk of falling headlong back into illusion and

Is beauty (in the eye of the beholder) always Warmth?

or can something that leaves us cold be registered as Beauty deep within?

just my musings.

I feel that to begin to understand something deeply, as I am re.the inspired relationship between man and technology, to broaden our limited vision, no matter what mode of knowledge, scientific, spiritual, or otherwise, to understand deeply always brings warmth.


Eolake Stobblehouse said...

"Is beauty (in the eye of the beholder) always Warmth?"

To me they are very strongly associated.

There can be sorts of soulless "beauty", but to me that's not really beauty, but a superficial imitation.