Lab 7: Deciphering Physical Books

Deciphering Physical Books

I will be thinking about digital readers and digitalized books. One of the interesting matters of the physicality of an e-book is that the platforms and devices that it can be read on vary in size and overall intended function. A laptop, a smartphone, a tablet, and an e-reader all can allow the user to store and read books on it. The e-reader might be optimized for reading but I see those more rarely - it is an investment that serves no other purpose, unlike the smartphone or tablet with other apps. Someone with something like a Kindle makes me think that they are a dedicated reader, or a student of literature - my classmates in the English major are the only people who I can recall seeing for the past several years with e-readers. The portability and practicality is the benefit, with several classes with maybe a dozen books each. No matter the length of the book, it is the same size and same weight, and all together, all of the books are the same weight as one individually.

What is especially interesting about the many platforms that one can use to read digital texts is that page number becomes an issue. Page numbers were only implemented into texts with the rise of the printing press and the standardization of type. Scribes copying the same text would inevitably have handwriting of differing sizes and the same text would end up on differing pages. With standard type and page sizes, page numbers mean that several people with the same text would easily be able to find the same section. Now, with many digital platforms where one can read, page sizes fluctuate wildly, leaving it once again a difficulty to sync several people to the same place in a text. I can read on a device the size of the palm of my hand - my smartphone - or something larger than a standard sheet of paper - my laptop - and with the ability to change text size and sometimes even font, the concept of a page number becomes even more muddled. It is a reference point for the reader only, to mark a significant passage or where they last left off.

With a digital device, there is nothing of the physicality of the text itself to judge. There is no cover art, no visible title, no size specific to one text - every book read on that device will be the same size. Any judgment comes from observing what kind of device the person is reading on - an e-reader specific for the purpose belongs to someone who likes to read, I imagine. Reading on a smartphone, on the other hand, is what I find myself doing, and it always feels to me like I am doing a disservice to the text by squinting down at it a few words at a time in the palm of my hand.