The Mechanic Muse — From Scroll to Screen [NYTimes.com] – It’s easy to get caught up in the user interface changes that digital technology brings to everyday activities like reading, but of course there are very cool precursors (if you will) in the history of book design.
But so far the great e-book debate has barely touched on the most important feature that the codex introduced: the nonlinear reading that so impressed St. Augustine. If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term. It’s no wonder that the rise of e-reading has revived two words for classical-era reading technologies: scroll and tablet. That’s the kind of reading you do in an e-book. The codex is built for nonlinear reading — not the way a Web surfer does it, aimlessly questing from document to document, but the way a deep reader does it, navigating the network of internal connections that exists within a single rich document like a novel. Indeed, the codex isn’t just another format, it’s the one for which the novel is optimized. The contemporary novel’s dense, layered language took root and grew in the codex, and it demands the kind of navigation that only the codex provides
Ultrabook: Intel’s $300 million plan to beat Apple at its own game [Ars Technica] – Although a divergence from the main theme of the post, the author’s narrative of trying to make a laptop purchase online is hilarious and depressing all at the same time.
The options I get are just… meaningless. Yes, I want “Everyday Computing,” so I want an Inspiron. But hang on, I also want “Design & Performance,” so I want an XPS. Wait a second, I want “Thin & Powerful,” too. So maybe I want a Z Series? But the only line that apparently matches my broad search criteria—lightweight, 11-14″—I wouldn’t even consider because I don’t want a “gaming” laptop, and so I’m never going to click Alienware! Is this the best way to sell laptops? Create a bunch of categories with arbitrary, overlapping labels, and just hope that buyers manage to fight through the system to find something that isn’t wretched? Maybe HP will be better… no, not really. Their site has some outright weirdnesses (yes, I’m in the UK, and yes, we’re metric, but no, I don’t want my screen measured diagonally in centimeters; we don’t do that). The same odd labels cover everything—I know I don’t want “Mini/Netbook,” but I want both “Everyday Computing” (that term again) and “High performance” (because I don’t want it to be slow, do I?). And who knows what “Envy” means? When I tick my screen size and weight boxes, I get back a crop of lousy netbooks that are almost the complete opposite of what I want.