Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whither print?

I just reread a not-so-recent posting on Infoworld.com about the demise of the print edition of that venerable tech magazine. It is a short article, worth the read even for those not into tech specifically. Ed Foster writes about his mixed feelings regarding the cessation of a hard copy edition of the magazine as it moved to a web-only existence.

I have to confess that I share his ambivalence about the future of "dead tree" editions of things. I love curling up with a good book. I adore the smell of a used book store and the feel of a quality edition of old favorites. You can take a paperback book camping and not worry about battery life. Or weight. A room lined with full bookshelves is a beautiful thing. There are many things I also like about print magazines, not the least of which is their linearity or at least their limited options for jumping around.

Sometimes clicking around links on web pages makes me wonder if I'll ever find my way back to something I wanted to read but saw in passing on the way somewhere else. My desktop regularly gets overwhelmed with links to these pages that I drop there "temporarily" so i can get back to them. At one point, I had created a half dozen desktop folders at different times to hold these "must read" links that I never seemed to find the time to get back to but had to get off my desktop.

It appears that many, many people agree with me that print is a terrific medium. I've heard the comment "I don't like reading on a computer screen" so many times I've lost count. Not just from adults, either, but even from a surprising number of students.

But if this sentiment is really so ubiquitous, why are print magazines getting smaller and smaller? Or moving strictly to the web like Infoworld? Why are newspapers losing readership and advertising dollars--the only two sources of revenue they have to keep going?

Is this a trend merely of the news sites, whose content must be fresh and constantly changing? Their need for quick presentation of the "new" would definitely make electronic access more desirable for both producer and reader. Or is it bigger trend that is starting there but with time will move on to literature? Already electronic publishing of research papers, which do not normally change after publishing, is happening electroinically. Is it only a matter of time before everyone is so accustomed to reading on screen that they will naturally gravitate to that medium for books' content as well?

Previous transitions in this transmission of information (verbal to written, scrolls to books, manual copies to printing press) each produced such a noticeable improvement without obvious down side that the transition was probably quickly and widely accepted. (At least it appears so in retrospect. One imagines that folks at the time may not have thought so.) Does the transition from paper to pixels have this same upside-only character? It looks that way for at least some content.

As Tablet PCs become more widely accepted and deployed (which, in spite of the naysaying of those who still don't get it, they are and will) some of the other objections will be eliminated from the equation. While not the same experience as reading a book, neither is reading on a Tablet like reading on a strictly vertical screen on a desk, or even on a notebook on your lap. Several good reader formats already exist and more are being explored and developed. More and better ways of allowing annotation are being created. Tablet models are, for the most part, comfortable to carry and hold and will continue to improve over time (although right now we are seeing one step backward for each step forward with many vendors. HP, are listening? Give us back a detachable keyboard, screen and bezel buttons, and the scroller!)

I don't claim to know what the future holds, but I'll be very surprised if most of us aren't doing most of our reading on Tablets or Tablet-like devices down the road. What about you?


Blogger Michael said...

I'm an English Professor and would like to start using a Tablet PC for reading & annotating/highlighting texts, including both student writing and primary (literary) texts. I'm just starting to learn about the options, but are there any sites or resources you could recommend to help me choose the best hardware & software?


Michael Ullyot
University of Calgary

12:56 PM  
Blogger Mark Payton said...

Hi Michael,

I think you are definitely on the right path. There are a number of options available to you--probably enough for a full blog posting describing them. For now, though, consider that Word 2003 and 2007 both have native inking abilities for documents, presumably papers delivered by students electronically. Primary documents are usually available as either PDF files or LIT (MS Reader) files. Reader has rudimentary native inking ability. PDF Annotator by Grahl Software has excellent inking capabilities for PDF files. If students use one of the free PDF printers, they can submit PDF files as assignments very easily. We use PrimoPDF for this, but there are several good packages.

As for other resources, round up the the usual suspects: www.gottabemobile.com, www.tabletpcbuzz.com, Lora Heiny's www.whatisnew.com, Robert Heiny's tabletpceducation.blogspot.com, Tracy Hooten's www.studenttabletpc.com. They are all good starting points for research on topics such as this.

Best of success to you. Please let us know what you find and how it works for you!


2:00 PM  

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