Sunday, December 18, 2016

Taking Onscreen Notes?

I recently bought and read Naomi S. Baron's Words Onscreen. The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). I came away somewhat disappointed, perhaps because I expected far too much from it. It does not really seem to provide an account of the fate of reading. Her main conclusions seem to be two: "To the extent we shift our reading from print to screens, we become less likely to reread. A decline of rereading would mark a critical shift in the way at least some types of readers have encountered books for centuries" (xiv), and "Reading onscreen favors short-form reading" (106). She also claims that e-books cannot be owned, but can only be licensed.

Let's take the last claim first. It is, of course true, if you look at books still covered by copyright, but it is clearly false when you look at older text, like those available on Project Gutenberg which is mention on three pages (ix, 36, 200) but does not really discuss. So the claim is at best only partially true. The same holds of the other two claims. E-texts do seem to make re-reading "less likely" and it does seem to favor short texts.[1] But her main reference group for this claim is college or university students, and I am not sure they are the best sample to use. She also concentrates on textbooks which are not really designed for re-reading even in their printed form. Students buy them at the beginning of the semester and sell them at the end of the semester. Some students mark the texts up for reviewing the information, while others avoid it (to get a better price at the end, I think). So, it's partially true that e-books make re-reading less likely, but I am not sure by how much they are to blame.

There is no entry in the index for "notes" or "note-taking," and the text is very light on this topic as well. In so far as she talks about note-taking, it has to do mainly with annotation (27-29, 30, 82, 116, 150-51, and digital annotation, 30). Marginalia are, as far as I am concerned the least important part of note-taking, however. The relative lack of engaging this issue is probably the main cause of my disappointment.

There are other interesting (but questionable) claims in the book, but not enough for me to whole-heartedly recommend it.



1. I don't know what "short-form reading" is.

2 comments:

Gil Oliveira said...

Hi,

For several months I've been reading your blog. It speaks to a lot of subjects that interest me and I like the title, it's well chosen.

For the present subject, I must say that from what you write about this book seems on the spot. I could have thought about how notes writen on pdf on an iPad (for instance) are synchronised with the pdf on Zotero, and the computer and etc. That's a real technical problem impeding reflexion. There are blogs and papers about the workflow and how to make it unobstrusive to thinking.

Thinking, is the key. The simple tools, like hot water to good pasta, are a worthy subject but not the main thing. I have a good library with contemporary books, old and ancient books and e-books. Integration can be tricky.

But "To the extent we shift our reading from print to screens, we become less likely to reread. A decline of rereading would mark a critical shift in the way at least some types of readers have encountered books for centuries"

Ok, centuries is completely out of there. Readers and books (and I'll speak only about the print and bounded form) it's recent and it changes every twenty years. So "some types of readers"... Which ones? Why, how, is it better that there were less readers but they did it "some" way better?

"Reading onscreen favors short-form reading". Well, I'm with you there. Meaning, I've some complete works in paper and some complete works in epub. I think that means that you read only in aphorisms and short sentences. Like maybe Chamfort, Rochefoucauld, Cioran, etc are better read onscreen. Well, I hope if that's a medical condition there's a cure. If not, the screen is not an obstacle to think about a short sentence.

"But her main reference group for this claim is college or university students, and I am not sure they are the best sample to use" Aren't you the master of the understatement! (Without malice towards you or the students).

Anyway, I still believe that's there's a good thing as note taking and a good o^place common book. And there's a lot of people (in several languages) thinking about the ways and the means but mainly the why.

Fundamentally, is how to do the best with our memory and the development of our personality. Ways and means are important only in so much that the why is clear.

Sorry about going on so long. I'll probably intervene about older posts, but I would prefer a more direct discussion.

Anyway, thanks for all your posts and happy new year to your and yours.

Gil Oliveira

Gil Oliveira said...

A bit of mistakes in English. Hpe it's ok.