An example which comes to mind for this week’s discussion question took place a few years ago in my Book History seminar with Scott Schofield. We were studying digital texts, and I wanted to compare a couple print editions of Kerouac’s On the Road (namely the first edition and the 50th anniversary “Original Scroll” edition) to the digital “Amplified Edition” (http://www.penguin.com/static/pages/features/amplified_editions/on_the_road.php). This e-edition was only available for iPads, and since I didn’t have one at the time, I borrowed one from the Inforum. I purchased it on the device from the App Store, and used it as needed for my paper. The issue came about when I had to return the iPad and realized that I would likely be saying goodbye to my purchase. There may have been some way (or maybe there still is?) to access it through iTunes, since I believe it was connected with my Apple ID, but I never figured it out. I sometimes wonder if the app is still on that Inforum iPad, and if anyone ever opens it up and gets some use out of it (I hope so!).
This fleeting period of ownership got me thinking about how much we ever really own things. A recent foray into minimalism has shifted the way I think about how humans relate to material objects, and whether or not this relationship is always entirely healthy. Do we own things, or do they own us? In many cases we use things to define our identities, which I would argue can be dangerous: what happens when our identities or interests change? An example which was discussed in class some weeks ago is the phenomenon of humans being the only species to collect books we don’t read (ha ha). This is very true though– we place books on our shelves to create a certain identity for ourselves, but how authentic is that identity if we have never (and may never) read them? For this reason, and a million others, I love libraries. We can read a book without feeling tied to it for life.
Tool libraries and “libraries of things” are a great way to extend this model to material items other than books. Similarly, I know of some minimalists who use Craigslist as a storage locker (check out these guys: http://www.theminimalists.com/). That is, they sell an item which they rarely use (say, a table saw), and if they find themselves needing one again, they just buy another from Craigslist, and sell it right back for the same price when they are done. I think this notion of borrowing things rather than owning them is useful when contemplating how we should be interacting with objects.
On a more bookish note (or e-bookish note), it makes me think of how we borrow e-books from libraries. So many non-library folks simply don’t understand why there are limits on how many people can borrow an e-book at once, and why they can only borrow it for as long as a regular library book. They think that since it is a digital version, there should be an endless supply of copies and loan periods. While we know there is a simple answer related to copyright laws, I think their impatience with the system exposes some of the unhealthy habits we are developing in the digital world, namely that we want things now and we want them without limits. I wonder where we will find ourselves if we continue to indulge these “more more more” ideologies of consumption.
I struggled a bit with how to answer this week’s question, as I have very little experience with ‘ownership’ in the digital sense – most of what I acquire and interact with (whether video games, audio material, video files, bookish things) are still very physical, tangible things. I haven’t had (although have heard of) the funny (and troubling) experience of having an e-book disappear from an e-reader, or not having access to something posted on a work website after the fact. I guess one example would be the issue of who ‘owns’ digital content posted to social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and all of the accompanying privacy issues. Still, I would like to focus on a different sort of ownership dilemma in this digital age. I visited family this Easter weekend, and while doing so, browsed a large number of family photo albums. I was reminded of the joys of days when pictures were taken, developed, and then (if someone was dedicated enough), curated and preserved in albums. This became a topic of discussion with my relatives – including all that we seem to have lost in the age of digital photography, where most of the time, pictures amass on smart phones, or rest disorganized in computer folders, never to be seen again. Even the act of ‘browsing’ digital photos on the computer (which I have been known to do during bouts of nostalgia) does not evoke the same feelings as the joy of perusing lovingly created physical photo albums. So, what does this mean for our ‘ownership’ of these aspects of our lives?
One of the other albums that I browsed through is a collection of letters between my grandparents. Looking at this beautifully preserved piece of family history, I was reminded of a couple articles I came across earlier this year about couples and families having their text message and email threads printed and bound into physical books for preservation (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-26182064) (for more examples of this check out platforms such as Memeoirs, Blurb, and txt-book). Looking at the album, it really struck me what has been lost (again) with the decline of paper letters – there were certain protocol I noticed (like peculiarities about addressing, adding the time and date) and generally the pace of letter correspondence. I remember laughing when I thought about an entire text message thread being printed and returned to in the same way. In the context of a relationship, this could include everything from the most intimate moments, to the most mundane (“Don’t forget to pick up cat litter.” – no, seriously). While you might argue that the same could be said of letters, I think we are in fact dealing with a different beast here. Perhaps there is an equal benefit to having these more ephemeral interactions preserved, so that one day our grandchildren can look back on them and observe (and laugh).
So, where I am going with this? I guess all of this made me consider what ‘ownership’ looks like in the long run in this digital age. While we may still ‘own’ (although even this is debatable) the content of our phones and computers, what happens to all of the stuff of our lives that rests in them? Even with the advent of a return to printed goods (those books are just one example, think items personalized with Instagram photos – http://mashable.com/2012/03/03/instagram-products-decor/, or a return to a Polaroid-like effect with smartphones – http://www.apple.com/ca/shop/product/HJJT2ZM/A/polaroid-zip-instant-mobile-printer) these still seem to be a niche market, and relatively small scale. This makes me wonder – even if we own these now, what will happen as forms of technology shift and become obsolete? Will we own this content five years down the line? Ten? Fifty? How many computer migrations will these digital files survive? To be honest, whenever I think about this I have a crazy urge to shell out the likely hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars it might cost to have each and every one of my photos printed – even if they never make it into albums, just having them all in a box somewhere would make me feel better – to have them somewhere, anywhere. To me, this form of digital ownership is a particularly frightening (and close to home) one. Browsing through these albums with my partner I couldn’t help but say, “what will our children have to look at?” While you won’t see me running out to print off every text we’ve ever sent (yet), part of me wishes that I had an answer to this question. Before you think this is some kind of sentimental, ‘think of the children’, nostalgia-driven paranoia, I really do feel there is something here about the future of our personal books (scrapbooks, photo albums, letter albums) and how digital forms of interacting and recording meaning are disrupting things like ownership, memory, and dare I say it, our history in the making.
BBC News. (14 February 2014). Man gives girlfriend 240-page book of text messages. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-26182064.
When I was researching ereaders, before I got my Kobo, the question of ownership was a bit of a pressing matter to me. This was around the time that Amazon was coming under fire for deleting books off of a user’s Kindle without warning or consent. This was a possibility I had never considered before. My worries about ebooks skewed more toward corrupted files or computer crashes. I thought I could lose ebooks, much like physical books can be misplaced or destroyed, but I did not think that the company I bought them from could take them away.
An NBC article on the controversial action by Amazon clarified that when we think we are buying ebooks we are really licencing them (Johnson 2012).The “buy” button might more properly be labeled “rent” (Johnson 2012). This case motivated me to buy a Kobo rather than a Kindle. While Kobo probably operates in the same way, it has, to my knowledge, never abused its customers. I also wanted the freedom of a Kobo. It’s one of the most open ereaders out there (Neal 2013). As well as supporting multiple formats, with and without DRM, it can be used with the Toronto Public Library. TPL has been offering ebooks for years and is compatible with all major ereaders… except the Kindle.
This research brought me face to face with the contradictions inherent in this kind of digital content. While a huge draw to ebooks is that they are more convenient, their actual convenience depends on the platform or device you use. For instance, I recently learned that one of my favourite authors, Hal Duncan, has ebook versions of his works available. While the major ones are sold on Kobo’s online store, the one’s I want are only available on Amazon. He’s not very well known, so libraries don’t have these titles. I am barred from reading them in ebook form unless I buy them, legally, from Amazon and then break the law to convert them into a format I can read on a Kobo. This seems bizarre, as having bought something I would expect to be able to use it as I want.
Another weakness of ebooks is an inability to lend them to other people. If I read something I like I can’t just grab it off my shelf and force it into someone’s hands. I recently read an excellent series, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I first got them from the library, digitally, and then bought them from Kobo. They are fairly brick-shaped and it makes more sense to me to own them as virtual copies, especially since that’s how I first read them. But, I don’t recommend them to people that often because there is an enforced lack of follow through. I can’t facilitate their access to the books.
Ebooks thoroughly complicate the idea of book ownership. The problem is that ebook-sellers’ don’t address this up-front. They act like buying an ebook is the same as buying a physical book, even pricing them similarly. Yet, they expect to exert unprecedented power over these purchases.
Johnson, Joel. 2012. “You don’t own your Kindle books, Amazon reminds customer.” NBC News, October 24. Accessed March 26, 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/technolog/you-dont-own-your-kindle-books-amazon-reminds-customer-1c6626211
Neal, Meghan. 2013. “Do You Ever Own Your E-Books?” VICE, August 19. Accessed March 26, 2016. http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/do-you-ever-own-your-e-books
So, I plan on going back just three years, to 2013. My time machine isn’t very advanced, I suppose.
This is the year that the alleged first bookless public library opened: BiblioTech in San Antonio. This library loans out ereaders and, of course, ebooks while forgoing print books. My message would be about books and about libraries.
Regarding books, I would caution the library – and the world at large – that a binary decision between ebooks and print books is a false choice. In 2016, it is looking more and more likely that a hybrid model of books is here to stay for the short-to-medium term.
Regarding libraries, I would remind them that the immediate embrace of a bookless physical space may fail to capitalize on the library brand. Indeed, a 2010 OCLC survey showed that 75% of people associate libraries first and foremost with books (Gauder 38). This strong book brand should still be leveraged. Plus, in light of concerns about the longevity of digital media, “[p]aper is still the best medium of preservation, and libraries still need to fill their shelves with… paper” (Darnton 109-110). To that end, any local histories might be best stored as print books, not ebooks. An all digital collection is preparing for a future that may never becoming the present in our lifetimes.
Darnton, Robert. The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future. New York: PublicAffairs , 2009. Print.
Gauder, Brad, ed. Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC, 2011. Print.
Last year while doing a project for the workshop Introduction to Scholarly Communication my team created guidelines for Archiving Tweets of Political Events using Archive-It. Working on this project we encountered interesting issues surrounding copyright ownership and access. The issues of copyright and ownership were related to the push by libraries to archive publicly available web content to prevent its easy loss (Antracoli et al., 2014). The harvesting, archiving, and curation of social media, particularly Tweets, is a new issue and their copyright and ownership dimensions have yet to be tested in court (Small, Kasianovitz, Blanford, & Celaya, 2012). We made our recommendations based on ample research and our opinions.
We learned there is a great deal of debate around copyright and ownership issues related to Twitter and Tweets. Some argued that users who choose to make their Twitter accounts public cannot object to the reuse or collection of their Tweets, as users have the option to privatize their account. At the same time, if a Twitter user’s tweet is indeed used, the user may view Tweets as a means for personal expression and therefore may wish to be credited for this expression (Small et al., 2012). There are three arguments against Tweets as being copyright material in Canada in the United States. First, the short length of one hundred and forty characters makes Tweets possibly ineligible for copyright protection (Reinberg, 2009; Small et al., 2012). In addition, much of what is posted on Twitter is the statement of common-knowledge facts or their impression, which are not copyrightable. Furthermore, many tweet comments are written in a similar manner, making copyright difficult to discern. Those scholars who argue for Tweets as copyrightable believe that some Tweets represent originality, as defined under copyright, or that a collection of Tweets as a whole potentially meets the minimum necessary for copyright protection (Reinberg, 2009).
We decided that no matter the outcome of the copyright decision if the tweets were used in an academic library they could be circumvented by the Twitter Terms of Service and/or the Fair Dealing exemption of copyright law in Canada. According to Twitter’s Terms of Service, posting Tweets grants Twitter “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)” (Twitter, Inc., 2016b). By this standard, Twitter owns every Tweet, but public Tweets are also useable for educational means. Under the Copyright Act’s Fair Dealing exception, an individual is able to use copyright material for research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review, or news reporting. Through the Political Tweets Librarian, academic libraries can harvest publicly available Tweets and their use for research, study, and other educational purposes falls clearly under the Fair Dealing exception of Canadian copyright law.
Antracoli, A., Duckworth, S., Silva, J., & Yarmey, K. (2014). Capture all the URLs: First steps in web archiving. Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice, 2(2), 155-170. doi: 10.5195/palrap.2014.67
This week’s question lends itself to so many specific examples, I felt a bit dizzy trying to decide what particular examplesto write about in relation to the changing nature ownership in my lifetime. (Short answer: so many things.)
So, I figured I’d take a step back and discuss the changing nature of ownership in general – specifically, how the pleasure of ownership has been replaced with the pleasure leading up to ownership. (Hence the overly cute title of this blog post… apologies.)
In 2013, Russell Belk updated his landmark study published in the Journal of Consumer Research with a game-changing finding: The up-and-coming Generation Y is the first cohort not to rank ownership as the most appealing part of shopping. Rather, it was the decision process leading up to that decision, usually in the form of reading online reviews and comparing options for purchase (Belk).
This rings true.
For me, the process of discovery for books – let’s use that as an example – is more important and satisfying than ownership. This could involve browsing GoodReads or library shelves. Even the act of finding a good deal at a used bookstore like BMV is more of the appeal of shopping than the ownership of the product, in my experience. While I may insist on having all of the books by a favorite author, I am happy to borrow books and add them to a reading log (e.g. GoodReads) in place of ownership.
As I discussed in an earlier blog entry, I am interested in exploring cultural shifts in reading practices through an ecological lens. This includes the materiality of reading platforms as well as cultural practices surrounding their creation, consumption, use, and eventual disposal.
I would like to use the example of field guides as a way into this conversation. iPhone apps such as PlantNet are able to identify plant species using the device’s camera. I am interested in how using an app like PlantNet instead of a traditional print field guide changes the experience of The Nature Walk. How is the process of photographing a plant (and having the name of the species supplied to you) different from locating a species in the traditional field guide format of a printed book? How does this change the way we “read” the plants we may encounter? How does it challenge the very concept of the Field Guide?
I want to somehow tie these thoughts into emerging academic conversations surrounding media and the ecological crisis. The work of poet-thinker Robert Bringhurst, and other scholars interested in the ways humans read the land will be relevant to this inquiry.
As Stephanie mentioned, we will be working together on continuing the encoding challenge. However, in case we were not able to go on with this idea, I thought of a back-up plan.
I was playing around with the idea of looking further into my post about “Star Touch”, the new app by the Toronto Star. I was really interested in the idea of the page, and how the page has changed with new developments in technology. I wanted to continue my exploration of the app, comparing the way in which content is presented in the app vs the physical newspaper. I also wanted to consider how the app made use of the digital space, the pros and cons of presenting the content in the app format, and the additional features that were included in the app, such as videos. I would possibly look at other apps, such as the National Geographic apps, and compare the idea of the page in these apps to the traditional idea of the page.
Although I will not be developing this idea into a full essay for this course, I may return to this idea at another time as I am very interested with the concept of the page and the representation of content.
Since I looked at the experimental text The Truth About Cats and Dogs in my blog post from week 6, I have been curious about revisiting this text and others like it in my final paper. My interest in experimental e-books looks specifically at the idiosyncrasies of the touch screen technology of a smartphone in conjunction with the architecture of the page. The smartphone as a platform interests me since it is a unique tool whose screen has unique properties that change depending on the text, operating somewhere along the spectrum between e-book and tablet, or even more closely resembling the screen of a video game app. I would also like to examine the ways that these texts utilize the page in ways which render, as the publisher put it, “unprintable” fiction (Lea). This is a concept that fascinates me and I am contemplating how to use the final paper as an opportunity to explore the implications of this. In what ways does the text really defy print and in what ways might we still see traces of a deeply embedded print culture still at work beneath the layers of the materiality of the text?
One way I see this manifesting is through a comparative analysis of a RPG type video game app versus one of these experimental texts available from Editions at Play. You can view them on this page, and even play free trials. I am really drawn to working with the book (pictured above) Entrances & Exits (link) by Reif Larson, which is described as a:
“Borgesian love story told through Google Street View, in which the narrator discovers a mysterious key in an abandoned bookshop and gradually learns of its power to open and close doors around the world. The story is a beautiful dance between fictional narrative real locations that seamlessly spans the globe” (Larsen).
The simulation of environment is one way that the experimental book seeks to use its digital environment to the fullest, and resembles a gaming experience as well, perhaps blurring the lines between both. Throughout this course we have looked at how the opportunity to create and relay meaning exists in so many aspects of a text. In this vein, in How the Page Matters Bonnie Mak draws our attention to how “words on the page are regularly understood to transmit information through language, but they can convey meaning in other ways” (15). By taking the architecture of the page together with some elements of media studies, I’m hoping to use analyze the way that meaning is created in this book, since its innovative use of its structure is central to the reason behind its creation as a piece of literature. It is a piece of digital literature whose content is inextricable from its container, making it bound to the page more than its designers may have thought.
Larson, Reif. Entrances & Exits. Visual Editions at Play, January 2016. https://editionsatplay.withgoogle.com/#/
Lea, Richard. “What apps next? Publishers and developers embrace ‘unprintable’ fiction.” The Guardian (2016): http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/03/publishers-developers-digital-technology-unprintable-fiction-google-editions-play
Mak, Bonnie. How the Page Matters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.
For the final assignment, Professor Galey is allowing Aneta and I to continue our encoding assignment. The XML challenge was my first foray into coding, and I discovered that I really love it! Something about the nit-picky nature of coding really jived with me; I enjoy work in which very careful attention to detail is needed. I have always liked editing, and have an eye for small mistakes, which seem to jump off the page at me. Ever since the assignment, I have been trying to figure out how I can do more coding projects that will produce something meaningful and substantive. (If anyone is interested in joining, I’m hoping to attend a Ladies Learning Code session or two in the near future: http://ladieslearningcode.com/)
A friend of mine who took this course a couple of years ago told me that for the final assignment, he and his partner took their XML document and created an interface for it. This seemed like a perfect fit for Aneta and I, because while we were coding, we had a lot of questions about what the decisions we were making would really look like in a finished product. We felt like we left a lot of loose ends on this front, and we were curious to see how they would play out. We also wanted to know how to proceed with turning the XML into something more tangible, and we actually started playing around with the TEI header and thinking about things like cascading style sheets. The goals for this assignment, therefore, are twofold: to get some closure on our unanswered questions, and to learn how to turn raw XML into a finished product by way of CSS/HTML. We are eager to get started, and excited about the anticipated results.