People still read, but now it’s social

When Apple’s Steve Jobs said in 2008 that “people don’t read anymore” there was an outcry from a range of people across the world. Jobs, was of course, decrying the Kindle eReader as a stand alone device and it would be interesting to know how many people who have purchased the iPad have done so primarily looking for an eReader.

A recent article in the New York Times, Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social takes a look at the phenomenon of social reading thanks to a number of eReaders enabling users to highlight and share passages in eBooks as well as being able to share thoughts and ideas via email, Twitter and blogs. Article author Steven Johnson says

Yes, we are reading slightly fewer long-form narratives and arguments than we did 50 years ago, though the Kindle and the iPad may well change that. Those are costs, to be sure. But what of the other side of the ledger? We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television.

And the speed with which we can follow the trail of an idea, or discover new perspectives on a problem, has increased by several orders of magnitude. We are marginally less focused, and exponentially more connected. That’s a bargain all of us should be happy to make.

The changes in the way we read are occurring rapidly. I’d like to know how many people across the globe who have purchased an iPad as a portable device rather than an eReader have downloaded (at least the free) books from the iBooks app. Will they read them? Perhaps. Would they have ever read them without such a device? I think not. The article is a brief one and well worth a read.

The iPad has landed, well almost…

The Apple iPad has landed. At 5am this morning (Melbourne time) Apple launched their latest creation, the iPad. It looks like a large iPhone or iPod touch.

It has a 25 CM display screen. One really cool demo covered the New York Times where users can read a copy that is laid out exactly like a real newspaper. It also has embedded video to add to the stories and menus to access other pages quickly.

A full size keyboard pops up when you use it in landscape. It has high definition video and lots of application for gaming. Photos can be added directly to Flickr and Facebook.

But the big thing for us guys is iBooks. The iBook store is on the iPad and Apple have already partnered with Penguin, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon and Schuster. Interestingly some prices for books were pictured during the launch. Although in US dollars, Twilight and The Lovely Bones were listed at $4.99. That’s very appealing. Obviously a full colour screen so covers display as per the real thing. Fonts can be changed and enlarged to suit individual readers.

Bad news though; iBooks is apparently only available in the US upon the release in March. This is a serious problem for any Apple market outside the US, but understandable really due to publishing territories. Wonder when other territories will come onboard? No doubt this will happen though, as iTunes wasn’t available to other territories at one stage.

But the most important and fairly basic question that we as library professionals and educators have to ask is will the iPad bring more people to reading? I think the answer is yes and surely that is what we are all about, what we strive for in our work every day.

A view of the bookshelf and eReader

A view of the bookshelf and eReader

iWork, a suite of applications has been added to the iPad. iWork includes speadsheets, documents and presentations and is compatible with Microsoft Office. The spreadsheets look amazing and a numeric keypad pops up for data entry. These apps will cost (US) $9.99 each, whereas the iWork complete suite for Macs cost a$129.

As there will be a full sized keyboard dock for the iPad, it makes using the iPad as a regular computer so much easier.

The device weighs approximately 680 grams and according to my calculations is just over 1 centimetre thick. The iPad will come in 16, 32 and 64GB. There are WiFi and 3G models. The 3G are unlocked and should be able to use any carrier.

Pricing starts at US$499 for 16GB, $599 for 32 and $699 64GB WiFi models. 3G models add an extra US$130. The WiFi model will be on sale in 60 days, this availability is worldwide. We won’t have to wait here in Australia. The 3G model will be on sale in 90 days, but international pricing for plans or prepaid accounts will take until June or July to be locked in. As the 3G model has a Sim card tray, here’s hoping that we’ll be able to use the Sim card for mobile broadband access.

The pricing here is important in terms of the Kindle DX. Currently at A$489, the Kindle will face stiff competition from the full colour multi-faceted iPad. Will be interesting to see how the availability of book titles pans out on the iPad. Perhaps it is no surprise that a free Kindle app for iPhone and iPod touch was released today.

Apple’s specifications can be accessed here. A VoiceOver screen reader should mean that vision impaired people can use the iPad. It seems there is no camera for video conferencing or Skyping and the rumour of solar power was just that. The Engadget people covered the iPad launch event live, so for lots of news, photos and specifications, head over there. And here is a short video of the launch:

Questions about how the iPad may impact on school libraries are pondered here.

Here is the official Apple video of the iPad.

Horizon Report 2010

The 2010 Horizon Report has been released. If you are new to the Horizon Report, it looks at the future impacts of technologies on teaching and learning.

The six technologies to watch that have been chosen for this year’s report are:

Near term (within 12 months)

  • Mobile computing
  • Open content

Second adoption (2-3 years)

  • Electronic books
  • Simple augmented reality

Far term (4-5 years)

  • Gesture-based computing
  • Visual data analysis

Of particular note to school libraries is possibly mobile computing and electronic books. The Horizon Report adds that:

  • Network-capable devices that students are already carrying, are already established on many campuses, although before we see widespread use, concerns about privacy, classroom management, and access will need to be addressed. At the same time, the opportunity is great; virtually all higher education students carry some form of mobile device, and the cellular network that supports their connectivity continues to grow. An increasing number of faculty and instructional technology staff are experimenting with the possibilities for collaboration and communication offered by mobile computing. Devices from smart phones to netbooks are portable tools for productivity, learning, and communication, offering an increasing range of activities fully supported by applications designed especially for mobiles.
  • Electronic books have been available in some form for nearly four decades, but the past twelve months have seen a dramatic upswing in their acceptance and use. Convenient and capable electronic reading devices combine the activities of acquiring, storing, reading, and annotating digital books, making it very easy to collect and carry hundreds of volumes in a space smaller than a single paperback book. Already in the mainstream of consumer use, electronic books are appearing on campuses with increasing frequency. Thanks to a number of pilot programs, much is already known about student preferences with regards to the various platforms available. Electronic books promise to reduce costs, save students from carrying pounds of textbooks, and contribute to the environmental efforts of paper conscious campuses.

Some other important points made by the report are

  • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.
  • Institutions increasingly focus more narrowly on key goals, as a result of shrinking budgets in the present economic climate. Across the board, institutions are looking for ways to control costs while still providing a high quality of service. Schools are challenged by the need to support a steady — or growing — number of students with fewer resources and staff than before. In this atmosphere, it is critical for information and media professionals to emphasize the importance of continuing research into emerging technologies as a means to achieve key institutional goals. As one example, knowing the facts about shifting server- and network intensive infrastructure, such as email or media streaming, off campus in the current climate might present the opportunity to generate considerable annual savings.
  • New scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching continue to emerge but appropriate
    metrics for evaluating them increasingly and far too often lag behind.

It must be noted that currently Higher Education authorities in the US are not promoting the Kindle due to its limitations for blind and vision impaired students. Thanks to Helen Boelens for this article.

Lost in cyberspace

This lengthy but thought provoking article appeared in The Sunday Age on Sunday 15 November. It asks the question that if “possessions define us… what does it say about our identity when iPods replace CD racks and Kindles take the place of bookshelves?”

How many of us have perused the CD collections and bookshelves of friends and lovers to help us form our opinions of them?


November 15, 2009

A YEAR or so ago, Professor Bob Cummins, convener of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life, emptied his shelves of books and left them on a table where staff and students at Deakin University give away unwanted stuff, like promotional CDs and old pieces of fruit.

It was liberating, he says. Utterly practical, too, given almost every piece of information he will ever need is available in compact electronic form. But he glances at his bare wooden shelves now and pauses. ”I feel like I have lost a social marker,” he says, finally. ”The fact is that I just never read those books and was never going to read them again – they were just academic props. But maybe they filled a function as that – as a prop for who Cummins is … probably shouldn’t have done it.”

Entering his office, you search for clues to reveal his likes and dislikes, fascinations and expertise. ”I guess walking into an academic’s office and finding a wall of earnest books is quite consoling; it means at face value you look like the real deal. Someone sitting in their office with bare shelves – how odd, what’s wrong with them?”

Perhaps a giant wall poster of Albert Einstein might suffice, he says, laughing. Anything to fill the void left as visual markers disappear behind blank computer screens.

Possessions help define us, brand us, but what happens when they start to hide away in boxes in top cupboards – CD stacks supplanted by iPod docks, film collections by downloads, libraries by wireless reading devices. Perhaps it’s part of a broader disconnect from society. As the world grows more intrusive, we retreat.

An article in Vanity Fairin August called this trend ”The Vanishing”. In mock-horror tones, the glossy mag moaned how homogenous e-books and iPods had stopped culture snobs showing off their superior tastes in literature and music to the masses. Equally, it was becoming impossible to spy on other people’s tastes and make judgments about them.

Sitting on a New York subway, writer James Wolcott watched a woman hold up a Kindle – Amazon’s wireless electronic reader, which became available to Australian readers this month – at an angle to catch the light. ”Unless you were an elf camped on her shoulder, what she was reading was hoarded from view, an anonymous block of pixels on a screen, making it impossible to identify its content and to surmise the state of her inner being, erotic proclivities, and intellectual calibre.”

Books ”help brand our identities”, he wrote. So what might become of us as such branding vanishes? Book jacket design might become a lost art, like album-cover art. The average coffee table book may not survive. Selected titles might be showcased in wall-mounted frames, with a small, built-in ledge, like a stage. Imagine every home displaying Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father above otherwise clean, white bookshelves.

Beyond books, technology means we have to squint or turn our heads sharply, to read the small print on the sides of DVD cases. Music is now ”residing in our heads rather than resounding off the walls”, as speaker docks have replaced CD collections. Some bloggers have resorted to posting shuffle lists of their iPods online to advertise their eclectic tastes. Parties are reportedly held at which young hosts now hook up digital frames to their iPods, simply so guests can watch album cover images for whatever tunes are playing.

One particular passage in Vanity Fair, quoted in turn from The New York Times, resonated: ”After two decades of defining ourselves in terms of our possessions, we now need to figure out who we would be without them.”

Two years ago, I packed my meagre music library of about 200 CDs inside a cardboard box, inside a bedroom cupboard I need a chair to reach. The heavy wooden CD tower vanished from the front yard in the next hard waste collection. In its place, sitting in a speaker dock in my living room, is an anonymous iPod that can store about 20,000 songs – each of them nicely arranged by artist/album/genre.

It’s neat and clean and compact, if not a little lonely sitting there atop the bookshelf. I wonder if my small library of books might one day disappear the same way, subsumed by a single digital device that I can take on holidays and read on the beach without the breeze ruffling the electronic pages. But what to do with all those bare shelves?

Futurist Mark Pesce packed about 2000 books in a storage unit in California six years ago before moving to Australia. He visited them last year in an attempt to winnow away about half the titles – but it’s hard graft. ”In a way that no other possession I own is me, they’re me, they’re absolutely me,” he says.

And yet, he reckons weighty textbooks, which are expensive to print for a niche market, may one day be sucked holus-bolus into digital reading devices. Reading for pleasure, whether handsome literary classics or those airport books hidden at the back of the bookshelf, will be the last thing to go. ”The thing that has scared me the most is, as an intellectual, I always like going into someone else’s house who is an intellectual to see what books they have. I find it extremely satisfying and exciting to look through someone else’s library,” he says.

”But I strongly suspect they will reappear in some other form. Already, some web-based services, such as Safari, are like a library where you can indicate what books you read. They’re like a web-based bookshelf, so before you go to see somebody, you drop by their electronic bookshelf and see what they’re reading.”

A Twitterer he follows recently declared how much he enjoyed listening to the rather earnest West London folk band Mumford and Sons. Once, Pesce might have had to rifle through a CD collection to make such a discovery. Now, many people are more inclined to reveal themselves through digital pointers rather than actual physical objects.

It’s different, sure, but who says it’s better? There are some obvious pitfalls to relying largely on the self-selections of others. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. But nor do they know you’re lying when you pretend to have read Proust. A university peer once claimed he had finished Ulyssesand thought it ”not a bad read”. I wanted to punch him in the jaw. Now, he can list his most memorable titles on, and annoy so many more people all at once.

Pesce says there is so much clutter online that something has to give. ”I read a Tech Lunch piece by a music reviewer who realised his 14-year-old son had been exposed to more music by that age than this older man had been in his entire life,” he says.

”This 14-year-old had never lived in an age where media has never been instantly available at the click of a button. Now we have an age of such hyper-abundance of media that, in fact, there is no place we can put it all. So much is coming from everywhere that things need to vanish.”

Here’s a neat game: next time you see someone wearing headphones on the train or walking down the street, stop them and ask what they’re listening to. You may need to nudge them to get their attention.

I tap Shane Cameron, 36, project manager for a smallgoods company, on the shoulder as he stands on crutches at Southern Cross Station, waiting for a train to North Melbourne. He’s been forced to catch the train since knee surgery – the downside to years of indoor soccer and taekwondo – and passes the time listening to Texan alternative rockers Sparta on a white iPod. ”It relieves the boredom,” he says. ”I always have something to keep myself occupied.”

On a separate train to Flinders Street Station, Gerard Richardson, 20, is listening to Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, while reading The Making of Julia Gillard. Small-business owner Anna Parente, 62, alights at South Yarra Station with a portable radio tuned to 3AW. ”I’ve had three train cancellations this morning. I’m furious. This takes my mind off things,” she says.

Massage student Jess Keighran, 21, is travelling to Richmond from Essendon, and leaves one earphone in while we speak. ”I usually read and listen at the same time, so you don’t have to listen to other people’s boring conversations. I just zone out, forget about what’s around me,” she says. What are you listening to now? ”I’m listening to nothing, the music just stopped.”

We plug in and plug out, often as soon as we walk beyond our front door. The headphones go on, we tap away at text messages or hunch over mobile phone screens on the train, playing solo computer games or watching the latest episode of our favourite TV shows. It’s another form of vanishing, really. Another way we disappear behind mobile technology, disconnecting from the inane bluster and bustle about us. Morning peak hour is like being stuck inside a mobile phone dead zone, with only the tinny bleed of noise from your neighbour’s overloud MP3 as company. It doesn’t matter that no one’s talking to each other, because no one’s listening any more.

Well, almost no one. Sound designer David Franzke spent 18 months riding Melbourne trains to record conversations for use in Anna Tregloan’s play, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, which premiered at last month’s Melbourne International Arts Festival. The sound of silence made his work frustrating, he says now, as we trundle along on a city-bound train from North Melbourne at 9am.

We are close enough to touch our fellow passengers, their hands busy checking text messages or sending emails, their ears piped with blather. I’m conscious Franzke, scruffy and curious amid so many suits, is the only one talking. ”I don’t think a lot of people get to do what they want to do with their lives. They end up taking a gig where they have to pull on a suit and go to work every day, and I don’t think it’s very much fun and I think they do shut down,” he says.

”You don’t hear as much now as you once did. You watch a group of kids who are travelling to school together and, let’s say there’s seven of them, at least three are going to have earbuds in their ears. They hit each other to get their attention.

”You see a lot of girls split their earphones to have one each, so they actually are in each other’s worlds for a little while. But it’s devolution not evolution. We’re actually losing the ability to communicate.”

Deakin University’s Bob Cummins – he of the empty bookshelves – says such disconnection is symptomatic of an age when people increasingly live alone. Paradoxically, at a time when it is possible to touch more people than ever before online, we position ourselves as islands from each other. ”People are retreating into themselves even further and taking themselves away from the bothersome interaction of other people,” he says.

”You can only do it in the anonymity of a large city. But people might want to do it because they are so overloaded with other information, or overloaded from too much social contact from Facebook – I mean, how much can you deal with?”

But Jenny Lewis, author of new book Connecting and Co-operating, instead sees Facebook and Twitter as opening opportunities for new, far-flung social interactions. ”To say we don’t know everybody who lives in our street and we don’t all go out for dinner, doesn’t say we have no friends. We have changed away from very local versions of connectedness to these other, maybe even virtual, communities,” she says.

We still use social markers to reveal our preferences and dislikes to others, but in less tangible ways, she argues. ”I see people comparing libraries on iPods and iPhone apps. It is not so easily accessible to look at things on bookshelves but I think people still swap and share their connections, just in different ways.

”Some people use their iPod defensively, to block out inane talk, but you wonder whether it is very different from how it used to be. It is not as if people used to strike up conversations that often before. We’re just so busy and time poor that we often feel too stressed and don’t feel we have time to do those basic things. So the moments we do get, we want just to ourselves.”

One train conversation detailed in The Dictionary of Imaginary Placesinvolves a girl who says she wants to quit Facebook because she feels too exposed. ”I don’t want to be found, that’s why I moved away,” she says. ”I actually hate it when I go in there cause there is 1001 messages going, ‘So and so has requested a friendship. So and so has changed their mood.’ Some people I might have gone to high school with; I might have sat next to on the train and I wouldn’t know.”

Her words ring in my ears as I stand on a quiet train, stuck in the interminable circle of hell that is the City Loop, and notice a man in the carriage reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

An older man in a dark blue suit sits with his white earphones in and his eyes closed, a beatific smile on his dial. And I wish I were in his world, if only to the next station.

I recently culled the vast majority of my CD collection as I was sick of dusting them and I never listened to them outside of the iPod. Books will prove different for many teacher librarians I believe, me included.

iPod for books Kindles excitement

Article in today’s Age regarding the introduction of the e-book reader Kindle into Australia.

iPod for books Kindles excitement

October 9, 2009

IT’S the iPod for book lovers. The Australian publishing industry was abuzz yesterday over the announcement that’s foray into the world of electronic readers, the Kindle, is coming to Australia.

The electronic reader, Amazon’s biggest-selling product ever, has previously been available only to US consumers. A new version that can download books, newspapers and periodicals wirelessly in more than 100 countries will begin shipping this month.

Kindle is a reading device that uses the same technology as 3G phones.

About 200,000 books will be available for Australian customers to download through the device from October 19.

People will be able to read newspapers and periodicals from around the world, such as The New York Times, and Britain’s Daily Telegraph. The Kindle will sell for $US279 ($A314). Sony’s e-reader model begins at about $100 cheaper.

Amazon’s vice-president of Kindle, Steve Kessel, was on the campaign trail yesterday and was adamant that Kindle will run seamlessly on Australia’s mobile network.

”The 3G wireless connection means you can be reading a book less than 60 seconds after you order it,” Mr Kessel said.