Changing the Social Structures of Knowledge

I am not really sure what I would tell someone in the past about the future of the book and reading, but I do know where I would go. I would visit Ptolemy I and the founding of the Ancient Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.

If there is one thing I would tell Ptolemy I and the library organizer Demetrius of Phalerum that knowledge and reading is something that should be equal to all. I understand that educating the common people gives rise to dissent and they are harder to control, but I believe that a people’s culture and history can be preserved through normal citizens as well. It would be nice to study history from a perspective other than that of the elite. I recall the readings from our first week by Robert Darton “What is the History of Books?” and the perspectives we encounter. It would be interesting to gain insight into the daily lives of the peoples of the ancient world instead of the viewpoint of the aristocracy.

My trip back in time would educate Ptolemy I on the importance of recorded information and to incorporate all facets of life from nobility to slave. Oh! And explain to him the advantages and disadvantages of scrolls and binded books. I have spoken before about the differences of continuous and discontinuous reading and I believe it is vital in understanding the medium of storage for knowledge.

The Digital Object: The future of the Digital Library

My post for this week will be split into two parts: Digital Rights Management (DRM) and its relationship to the future of the book, and a review on the book Ready Player One. The first part of the post talks about the closed spaces facilitated by DRM and the second is a fictional world that looks at access to knowledge and information from an open source point of view.

Digital Rights Management is a system that restricts the access of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. We’ve all seen them in e-readers, iTunes, etc. What’s interesting about DRM is that it locks an item into a system and the users has little to no control over the contents. For example, early e-readers allowed the user to highlight text but they could not copy it or provide annotations. This had implications on the practice of commonplacing. Later ebooks allowed the addition of comments, but somehow I feel that is lacking when compared to the annotations or marginalia in a physical book. That is not to say that there are no restrictions on a physical object but there are certain liberties afforded by the medium. I can lend, re-sell, or donate my collection as I see fit. What about digital books and music?

A few years ago, an article surfaced about the actor Bruce Willis and his attempt to ensure that his iTunes library could be left to his children in his will. Whether the story is true or not is not the point, but the principle of it brings up interesting questions: What happens to a digital collection once the owner has passed on? What is the future of libraries and archives in an increasingly digital world? With DRM you do not own the items you purchase but are in essence leasing it from an organization. This could have serious implications for libraries and archives that rely on donations. Could you imagine where we would be without either of these institutions and the insight into figures like Northrop Frye or Marshall McLuhan from donated collections of books? In addition, with a digital object the same type of markup is not left behind. We have version controls on some objects, but with the ease of editing that could end up being a momentous task to filter through them all to study a books history or the owners thoughts. Users need to have more control over digital objects and rules/laws need to be changed to accommodate those rights.

I recently finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. As a videogame geek I found the references to old videogames, TV series, and music, nostalgic. The author does an amazing job creating the dystopian future Earth. What I liked most about the book was the idea of open access to knowledge that the virtual world of OASIS offered. At no point in the book did the main protagonist worry about copyright or intellectual property laws but he could enjoy the products of the past freely. This type of open source world is something that is intriguing for the future of the book, and knowledge in general.

On a side note: Ready Player One is being made into a movie. I’m excited to see what they do with it.

Final Project Ideas

For my final project like Aneta and Stephanie am going to continue with XML coding. I am looking at a Japanese card game called Karuta. The game contains 2 decks of cards: one for reading, and one for collecting. The cards contain 100 poems that are memorized by the participants.

Collecting Card on Left. Reading Card on the Right.

The collecting deck is laid out in front of the participants and another person reads out key phrases from the poems. Those collecting try to locate the corresponding card as quickly as possible usually by swiping it out of the deck. In Japan there is even a competitive league for Karuta.

Competitive Karuta – Image Copyright All Japan Karuta Association

My final project will consist of XML coding one of the children’s games that teaches the basics of the Japanese alphabet, Hiragana. I would like to look at the complexities of trying to code a physical card game from another language using XML and a short paper on some issues with digitization. With the rush of attempting to digitize materials, we forget that books are not the only forms of knowledge. I will examine how non-linear narratives are encoded when using TEI Guidelines and whether this is suited for this task. In addition, I will discuss what is lost in the process of digitization. For example, the socialization aspect of the game is lost if you digitize it and make a game interface where there is little to no interaction.

What do you guys think about this? Any suggestions on directions I can go or that I haven’t thought of?

If this topic does not work out, my backup plan is to do a paper on the future of creativity and innovation in a world where we have increasingly stricter copyright laws and digital rights management.

Wearable Technologies : Seamless integration between the Digital and Physical Worlds

For this week’s blog post, instead of looking at how the seamless world of content is disrupted by that which contains it, I am going to look at how wearable technologies can potentially do the opposite of that by seamlessly integrating the digital and physical world.

A brief history of wearable computing

Steve Mann is a pioneer and inventor of wearable technologies from the early 90’s. Some refer to him as the father of wearables since they have been a part of his life and body since the 1980’s. He has tackled issues such as privacy, sousveillance, and cyborg-law (Wikipedia, 2016). One of his inventions developed at the MIT Media Lab from 1994-1998, Sixth Sense, is a gesture-based wearable device that comprises of a camera, mirror, and projector worn around the neck (Wikipedia, 2016). His designs were further developed by Pranav Mistry in 2012. It is named Sixth Sense because it supplies extra information directly to the user, in addition to their five senses (Wikipedia, 2016).

Sixth Sense (not the movie…)

I will focus on the design of Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry and some of the ideas for the device. Pranav’s logic is that we interact with our environment with our five senses that give us information and parses knowledge of the world around us. His idea is to bring information from the digital world to the physical world without the reliance on either physical-based mediums such as paper or digitally on a screen (Mistry, 2010). We should be able to interact with our world using natural hand gestures that we are all familiar with. For example, taking a picture by making a rectangle with our fingers. By projecting information onto any physical surface a person could browse the web or send an email. Pranav’s TED Talk on Sixth Sense shows you all the possibilities of the device.

Breaking the container

The rise of mobile devices and computing have tied us to either a space or device that mediates our experiences through a screen. I found Sixth Sense to be interesting because it seamlessly integrates the digital world with the physical one. For example, in his TED Talk, Pranav is reading a newspaper; the device scans the picture in the headline about a Presidential speech and the video of the talk can be played right on the surface of the paper being held. There was no need to use another device to look up the video or additional information. Every task can be done through the device around your neck using the materials around you and natural hand gestures. Instead of having to carry a dedicated e-reader, tablet, or physical book any surface can be used to project text. If a surface is not available the hand can be used as well. I find something like this extremely useful and it plays with the idea of containers by eliminating the need for them. The spheres of physical and digital are no longer separated by different devices but are seamlessly integrated into one medium. It will be very exciting to see where the development of this technology goes.


Mistry, Pranav. (2010). Sixth Sense: Integrating information with the Real World.

Wikipedia contributors, “SixthSense,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 10, 2016).

Wikipedia contributors, “Steve Mann,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 10, 2016).

The spheres of my reading

Reading is something I separate into two spheres: serious/academic and pleasure. I thought the way I read was straightforward, but this week I really took the time to examine why I stick to certain habits when it comes to reading. As a child, learning to read (which started at age three) became synonymous with school. I remember my dad sitting with me and My First Primer mouthing the words as I spelled and learned to pronounce the letters and syllables. Repetition was key to learning how to read and write, I’d have copybooks full with words written over and over.

firstprimer cover
My First Primer © Nelson

firstprimer page


When examining how I read today, I realized that I exhibit some of those same principles. For academic reading I prefer a physical copy. I like highlighting important points, asking questions, and summarizing points in the margin for ease of reference when I write my papers. Spatial recognition is key for me when reading and writing. When I read the physical copy of a book or article, even if I don’t remember a point I can recall it by remembering the layout of the page and where points are situated on it.

Annotations from Virtual Media Audiences class

When I study for exams I rely on this method as well. I take all my notes electronically throughout the term, but when preparing for final exams, I write everything out on flash cards. My memory recall is tied to the actions of copying and writing things down.

Flash card for my presentation on an information service my group designed for Google Glass

If I print out my notes and read them repeatedly I tend not to recall what I just read. I believe that the way I learned to read and write has bearing on the way I process information at this stage of my life.

I do most pleasure reading electronically. While I love holding the physical book in my hands (I’m pretty particular with my books, I don’t even crack the spine when I read!) the convenience of reading on my phone, Kindle, or Nexus tablet wins out. It is a lot more convenient to have my books electronically than have multiple bulky books in my backpack or purse. I don’t need to make extensive notes and portability is the main reason for reading on a screen. I rely on public transportation, so space is also an issue. It is easier to immerse myself into the universe of the book when I’m not fighting for elbow room or standing room. Reading a physical book isn’t conducive when standing, turning the page becomes difficult and often impossible. However, what I find interesting about reading on a device is that it is an isolating experience. Previous to e-readers, I could look at what a person was reading and if it looked interesting, ask them what the book was about. People love talking about their favorite authors and their books. Now, such a task is impossible. You never know what people are reading and the act of reading has become a personalized, isolated experience like those of the monks cloistered in the monastery.

Flushing the Page

For this week’s blog post I was not really sure what to do. During my research I came across two instances of books on toilet paper: the first was intended as a joke, the second a purposeful publication.

Usually, when we think of a book and its pages we associate it with a permanent, solidified existence and the digital realm as ephemeral. According to Stoicheff and Taylor, digital texts are viewed for their flexibility, ease of use, and dissemination around the globe for commentary (2004, p. 4). On the other hand, physical pages carry authority because of its long history in academic and intellectual pursuits. Our understanding of the page is rooted in its history (ibid, p. 8).

What I find interesting about the toilet paper novels is that they symbolize the impermanence of text. They are not meant to last, they are single use only. The first book on toilet paper that I came across was Moby Dick. The novel was typed out on toilet paper and transformed the book from a codex back to a scroll.

Toilet paper book
© Melville House

By doing so, the toilet paper book no longer facilitated discontinuous or selective reading, but changed it to continuous. The pages could no longer be viewed as an individuation according to Piper’s definition; it became a scroll where only the recto side could be seen. Consequently, Piper’s view of the page as a mirror is also changed with the toilet paper as we cannot read the pages in opposition of each other (2012, p. 52).

Piper also discusses how we read pages: we use actions such as roaming, zooming, and streaming (p. 55-58). However, with a toilet paper novel the actions of zooming and streaming are not possible. We cannot zoom the text of the toilet paper novel as it is very much tied to the materiality of the paper it is printed on. On the other hand, streaming talks of the ephemerality of the page because once a piece is used it is discarded and the information on it is gone. So too is the page of the toilet paper novel: once it has been used, it is no longer there, you cannot revisit it.

The difference between the Moby Dick novel and the Japanese novel is the way the information is laid out on the paper. The horror novel relies on Japanese folklore and superstitions as the basis for being published on toilet paper.

toiletpaper book
©Koji Suzuki

The Japanese novel is laid out to emulate the page in how it incorporates white space, possibly due to the vertical writing of the Japanese language as opposed to the horizontal writing of English. However, it does play with the permanence of published material. It defies the logic of the preservation of the page and instead focuses on what Piper describes as writing as a stream (2012, p. 58). Either way, it is not the type of thing one thinks about when you say book, page, or novel.


Piper, Andrew. “Turning the Page (Roaming, Zooming, Streaming).” InBook Was There: Reading in Electronic Times, 45-61. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Robins, Ellie. (2012). Moby Dick Toilet Paper. Melville House. Retrieved from

Ryall, Julian. (2009). Japanese publisher prints horror novel on toilet roll. Retrieved from

Stoicheff, Peter, and Andrew Taylor. Introduction to The Future of the Page, 3-25. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

To Encode or Not to Encode

For our encoding challenge, our group decided to look at House of Leaves by  Mark Z. Danielewski. The book looks simple, until you start looking at the composition, layout, and structure of the narratives in this book. It is an example of ergodic literature, where narratives are driven by user interaction. The novel involves several character threads that transcend time. I have not read the book but the layout alone is something to look forward to reading in the future.

There were many interesting pages to choose from in this book. The spacing, columned text, and even mirror images were interesting. One set of pages that piqued my curiosity contained text that was presented vertically on the page with boxes of text embedded within it.

House of Leaves mirror recto

On the reverse page, this same text was placed vertically and as a mirror image of the text on the previous page.House of Leaves mirror verso

The complexity of the page was beyond my skill level to represent using XML. It would be fascinating to see how a page like that would be represented digitally, or even through a web browser. Consequently, that brought up issues of digitization and the materiality of the book, House of Leaves. It would be easier with the physical copy to hold a mirror up to the page verso and compare the mirrored text, or even fold the pages. How would something like that be presented digitally and what would that look like? These were some of the thoughts running through my head as I looked at the pages. Ultimately, we chose a simple page with three narrative structures for our encoding project. It will be challenging and interesting to see how we end up representing these structures for the assignment.

As an aside, the author’s sister is the musician Poe. Her second album Haunted is a counterpart to the book, House of Leaves. The album follows the same narrative structure as that of the book and tells the story of the characters (Wikipedia,2016).


Wikipedia contributors, “Haunted (Poe album),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 11, 2016).

TEI for the Divine Comedy Soul: The World of Dante

Through the TEI projects portal, I came across The World of Dante created by the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities, University of Virginia. The site is dedicated to the study of the Divine Comedy through multimedia research tools such as interactive maps, diagrams, music, and a timeline. The project uses a combination of SGML and XML and states that translators had to make compromises but their hope is that any loss in translation can be made up by the other data available on the site that is not found elsewhere online (Parker, The World of Dante).

The site offers a variety of viewpoints into Dante’s World but some aspects seem odd and hard to maneuver. For example, Interactive view of Botticelli’s Chart of Hell  is at first unclear as there are no instructions on how manipulate the map nor what you are seeing (or that could just be me). The timeline is an interesting feature that uses XML and gives documentation and source code for those wishing to build their own timelines. Each book is edited in XML that is indexed and searchable throughout the site. The layout of each canto is Italian on the left and English translation on the right. XML tags are visible in a column on the right and are divided into: people, places, creature, etc. Selecting an option brings up a new window with the tag used displayed in the header and a description of that selection. For example, in Canto 2 of Inferno under the People tag, if Enea is selected, a window opens with the header “Person”, a “Name” tag, “Description” tag, and “more information” link. Clicking on the link will show more tags associated with the person such as, gender, nature, etc.

Inferno, Canto 2
The World of Dante: Inferno, Canto 2

The site offers a detailed description of the editorial process and some of the challenges with translating poetry. It gives some editorial guidelines for tagging and what decisions were made about relevant data such as persons, mythical creatures, etc. It mentions the use of software for the project, but does not name it. Consequently, it does not make its code available for others to use or view. Overall, the site is a good resource for those looking to engage with The World of Dante, offers open access to literary texts, and makes good use of XML for presentation and searchability of material.


The World of Dante. University of Virginia. Accessed February 2, 2016.

Shift from Material to Digital

Board games are a popular pastime and lend to socialization among friends and family members. There has been a resurgence in Toronto at places like Snakes and Lattes and their sister location Snakes and Lagers. When we think of digitization of these types of games, we think of computer or mobile games that transfer all the properties into the digital realm. However, I thought about when board games are only partially digitized and how assets add or take away from the experience.

A couple of years ago, I purchased a new game of Monopoly with the electronic banking system. Monopoly originated in the United States in 1903 as an educational tool to explain taxation (Wikipedia, 2016). It has evolved into a pastime enjoyed by families with many versions available, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. In this new version, you are given a card with preloaded money and all transactions flow through it. I found it difficult to keep track of my money because I was use to seeing it in front of me and had little tips on how I would spend it. My strategy was to place my $100 and $500 bills under the board out of sight, so that when I was in a pinch I had that extra money to spend. Now, with everything on the card, I could no longer do so. In addition, you could no longer cheat! My brother tried to scam some money as the banker, but was unable to do so because everyone could see the transaction via the machine. I found that this change from a material cash system to an electronic one diminished the experience of the game. The feel of the money, visually keeping count of how much you had, and, yes, even skimming some off the top.

Monopoly board with Electronic Banking
Monopoly Electronic Banking Game © Hasbro Games

The change from a cash system to an electronic one was a reflection of how our society had changed. Rarely, do I see people walk around with cash; they rely on their debit and credit cards for everyday transactions. It is harder to keep track of your purchases this way and can easily lead to increased debt. It used to be that Monopoly would teach you money skills in the sense that you are given so much and once it’s gone (physically) you know you are bankrupt and need to sell assets to survive. With this cash system change it seems like those lessons are gone and replaced with the consumerism tied to digital money: you receive money electronically, you spend it using a credit card, and all you can see are numbers going up and down, from black to red. You no longer have the physical medium of money to learn the lesson of rational spending; the system becomes hidden with only a digital counter to belie its existence.


Hasbro Games, Monopoly Electronic Banking Game. 2016.

Wikipedia contributors, “Monopoly (game),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 27, 2016).


Form, Function, and Digitization of Books

I am an avid lover of ancient history. My weekends as a child were spent cloistered in my aunt’s library reading mythology. I enjoyed books like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and comic book short stories from the Bhagavad Gita. As cheesy as it sounds, my love of history turned into a passion when I saw the movie Stargate. I was hooked on history like never before; I read encyclopedias to learn more about Ancient Egypt and went so far as to attempt to learn hieroglyphics. A few years ago, while working at Indigo Books, I came across a coffee table book on King Tut, The Treasures of Tutankhamun.

Cover of Treasures of Tutankhamun
The Treasures of Tutankhamun – © Jaromir Malek

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