Just catching up on instapaper'd articles and came across a couple of James Bridle articles with bits I want to refer back to, share and annotate, so I've merged two blog posts together.

From The new value of text:

Text lasts. It’s not platform-dependant, you don’t just get it from one source, read it in one place, understand it in one way. It is not dependent on technology: it is what we make technology out of. Code is text, it is the fundamental nature of technology


we are terrified that in the digital age, people are constantly distracted. That they’re shallower, lazier, more dazzled. If they are, then the text is not speaking clearly enough. We are not speaking clearly enough. Like over-stuffed attendees at a dull banquet, the mind wanders. We are terrified that people are dumbing down, and so we provide them with ever dumber entertainment. We sell them ever greater distractions, hoping to dazzle them further.

From Everything is the same only different:

when I talk about “books”, I don’t mean ‘ebooks’ or ‘bound books’ or any division thereof: I’m talking about something written down and transmitted. When we talk about how we feel about and interact with music now we don’t have to specify whether it’s MP3 or vinyl in most contexts. That’s not really what the discussion is about.

The reason this needs to be clear is because when we ask what is different about digital books, what we are asking is what existing qualities of the book digital enhances.


as publishers race to the bottom to produce ever cheaper editions, and with that a range of formatting and proofing problems arise, further damaging the reputation of the book. These can be resolved instead of increased through digital, through better workflows, linked content and more openness to feedback.

As usual, I found myself nodding along to most of the points, and taking away some more threads to think on. I've been conciously trying to change my viewpoint based on "Ask not what is the future of the book, instead ask what is the future of reading" to consider the reading as the activity and not getting hung up on the delivery mechanism and to think, basically, about the text. Or the concepts behind the text.

And he's spot on about the quality of the text provided in (some) digital books. I recently read Quick, Let's Get Out of Here to my Mum and, as I said in my Goodreads review

I was, however, frustrated by some of the spelling mistakes in the kindle ebook version - I find this annoying in a print book, but inexcusable in an ebook.

You see, I don't understand why revisions can't be made to ensure that a ebook is the best it can possibly be. Actually, I do understand it from a publishers perspective, once the ebook is in the store, then it's moved from a delivery phase to a support phase (using technical project speak) and no longer gets much attention, but, why should the next person who comes along to buy the book not benefit from a feedback mechanism about spelling/formatting mistakes and get a version that is improved (with would surely lead to better reviews etc). I know, a simplistic view that ignores the complexity of the matter. But for me, t's not about the way the text is displayed, be it on paper, or digitally, or whatever, it's about making my experience of reading that text a good one, of enabling me to engage with it (or the thoughts behind it) without being jarred out of my "happy reading place" by a badly encoded accent etc

As for digital distraction, I do get distracted easily, when I'm in the mindset to be. If I'm consuming a twitter feed then I will pop off all over the place following links, some of which I'll flag to read properly later. If I'm reading within the context of my kindle, then I'm usually pretty focussed on what I'm reading and don't get distracted other than within the text I'm reading (following footnotes etc) or with thoughts provoked by the text I'm consuming. The same goes for reading instapaper'd articles, whether on the kindle or through the iPhone app, I've usually already quickly skimmed the article and decided I want to read it, so when I start reading it, I'm commited to reading it. And it is all about commitment. With a side-helping of opportunity. The opportunity to sit down somewhere quietly and focus.

Anyway, as I say, more things to think about. It's an interesting time in the life of text. It feels like we're surrounded by more text than ever before, at least some of which has been made available by the internet (whether that's web pages, ebooks or just the accessibility of out-of-stock/rare books that the local bookstore can't/doesn't stock) and that thought pleases me.