Lab 7: Deciphering Physical Books
In her writings to her sister, Jane Austen criticizes the ladies she sees around her who “read those enormous great stupid thick quarto volumes.” She believes that these characters are concerned more with the aesthetic pleasures of books, rather than their intellectual contents. In her article, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, Leah Price argues that books undergo transformations in the hands of the reader. On one hand, Price and Austen place content over form, while the “ladies”, on the other, place form over content. Either way, it is obvious that books are cultural objects that play a role beyond reading. In Frank Furedi’s The Media’s First Moral Panic, for example, the effect of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther goes far beyond aesthetics and results in an epidemic of suicides. Books, then, can have both a mental and physical effect of our lives, and are still situated in our cultural landscape today.
Today, books take a digital form and are widely distributed. In this technological landscape, restricting Goethe’s text would have been virtually impossible. Indeed, with children running around with iPads and iPhones at their fingertips, the effect of digital books is not the only concern. Technology has opened the door to any other possibilities, and in turn, areas of concern. Specifically, social media platforms can influence and shape a child’s development, the effects of which are still unclear. The internet has been baked into the culture of everyday life, and “users” (similar to the “readers” in Price’s text) can just as easily become lost in it.
While the positioning of quartos in breakfast parlors may have represented the status and identity of the institution, negotiated exchanges online can affect how users perceive themselves offline. Relationships are quantified online, and the strength of a relationship is based upon likes and the constant engagement of users. This medium is much more fast paced, and has created a fast-paced culture as a result. While social media has promoted creativity and innovation, it has also promoted superficiality.
In terms of format, there are similarities and differences that are apartment between the books we examined in class and these social media platforms. Indeed, social media exists on an array of devices of different screen sizes, just like these historical books. For social media, however, there is no direct link between format and content; while quartos and folios were more nuanced and were chosen for specific reasons, any content can be accessed from any tech device. Further, unlike the many editions of Morse’s Geography where the differences could be mapped out across the years, social media platforms update automatically and frequently, discarding older updates and versions.