We're all Luddites again
The New York Times has another one of their inane "articles" on e-readers. This one has a title that just oozes inanity: "Does the brain like E-Books?"
(Reading, as some of us know, involves some high-falutingly named cognitive processes, all having to do with translating high-(one may hope)contrast squiggles into what eventually should be a world. This process is abstract and independent of how the squiggles are embodied. Embodiment just jiggles the parameters; things like the speed of reading. [My advice: Better read fast if it's written on water!])
(Point two. The brain doesn't "like" anything. The brain doesn't contain a homonculus/a that injects pleasure -- or any other form of evaluate judgment -- into the brain's processing modules, any more than the gut feels disgust about all the shit it has to deal with.) (Of course, a mind can feel disgust about all the shit it has to deal with. Hence, par example, this post.)
Sandra Aamodt points out the blindingly (half-pun intended) obvious: It's not about the squibbles themselves, but the implementation. Computer screens fatigue you with their luminance; computer screens also have pnicely inbuilt additional distractions (they tend to contain the whole of the Known Internet, for starters, as well as all of your iTunes). David Gelernter (what's in a name!) points out another blindingly obvious fact: You can search e-books. Like: OMG! OMFG!
So, yeah, I'd have just loved to have heard the town criers on that new invention, the wax tablet (it deadens your memory!); papyrus (your records will rot before your very eyes!); the book (what? no scrolling?); loose type (scribes out of work! scribes out of work!); and the illustration (kills the imagination! kills the imagination!).
Implementation, that's all it is*. As long as the squiggles are the same, the world conjured up will be the same. (The reading mind being the same. Which it never is. Hence the joy of rereading.) No need to spill that much ink (ha!) or pixels over it. Relax. It's all good. It's only about words, and nobody cares about those. (Certainly not the NYT, who now routinely has its book reviews done by novelists. Can't wait for Jay-Z's thorough review of the next Lil' Wayne! 'D love to see Aaron Spelling's take on Thirty Rock! Glenn Beck's -- and no-one else's -- insights on Jon Stewart! Wonder why you become irrelevanter by the minute?)
Still, now that Kindles turn out to be beloved by middle-aged folks rather than hipster young-uns, it's nice to be for once see the pot-bellied and bald crowd ROFLing on their hi-pile carpets.
*And so, indeed, if I pay about the same amount to get Dawkins's new one on Kindle as I were to pay for the hardcover, can I please get a black and white version of the color illustrations he refers to, and readable black and whites? And while we're at it, if you handicap the book by kindling it, couldn't you tell me this before I shelled out my hard-earned money, unaptly-named Free Press?