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.

Friday, December 16, 2016

On Leibniz's Notes

In the previous post I cited Fontanelle's biography of Leibniz on his way of taking notes. Fontenelle cannot be entirely correct, however. See, the previous notes on Leibniz on this blog. But see also this Website. Leibniz did many interesting things to (and with) his notes.



There are 150,000 to 200,000 slips. Often, they consist of papers containing notes that Leibniz cut up and then used to write new notes on.

Beethoven's Notebooks

Peter F. Drucker, in Managing Oneself tells story about Beethoven's notebook habit:
Beethoven ... left behind an enormous number of sketchbooks, yet he said he never actually looked at them when he composed. Asked why he kept them, he is reported to have replied, "If I don't write it down immediately, I forget it right away. If I put it into a sketchbook, I never forget it and I never have to look it up again.

Fontanelle says similar things about Leibniz who, he says, took notes of everything he read and then added his own thoughts at the same time. Afterwards, he put it aside and "never looked at it again. But his incomparable memory forgot nothing that he wrote, as it usually happens [with others]. It was as if through writing he eternally engraved them in his head."

I am sad to say that this is not my experience. It might be that I remember things more easily after having written them down, but it does not seem to make much of a difference.[1] I would be lost without my note-taking system.


1. And it does not make much difference (to me) whether I typed or hand-wrote the notes.

On "Building Your Own Memex"

I came across Building Your Own Memex on Gradhacker. The post is from 2012, but it is still interesting.

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