Getting on the Same Page

Well, I'm back. After my holiday marathon I really had nothing left to say, so I took a few weeks off to recharge and look for new trivialities to explore. I want to thank all of those who looked in during the 24 days of blogging, particularly those who took the time to comment. Despite using a captcha, a large number of spam replies get into my box for approval, and it is such a joy (bordering on shock) to see a real person amid the knock-off Louis Vuitton ads. But now it's 2014, and time to get back to work.

Starting with something small today. Every so often I come up against new realities that bump up against the old, a new wine that doesn't fit into old wineskins. We see this in our language all the time…I wonder what kids think when they are asked to dial someone's number on a phone, or type a paper, or roll down the car window. The realities of my childhood carry forward in language after the physical realities have changed. Most of these, like the ones I have mentioned, are primarily quaint, and humorous. However, some of these clashes actually can cause confusion and probably need redefinition.

I joined Goodreads during the break as part of my resolution to read more during 2014. Goodreads is a great way to organize my own reading and a good source of new books. I can keep a record of progress in my own books while reading reviews and recommendations of others. Given my obsession with listing all the books I read (someday I'll write about books and the heavenly pool hall), this seems to be an enjoyable, non-intrusive addition to my digital footprint.

One of the areas of this site allows me to update my progress in books that I am currently reading. Taking a few minutes, I can enter what page I'm on and give a quick update of my thoughts so far. As I started to update this page, I paused at page number as I realized that the number I was entering was higher than the total pages listed. Clearly I have the font on my iPad larger than the text of the printed book. Suddenly it hit me as it hadn't before that page numbers in an era of digital readers are completely irrelevant. The page number is changed by the font size, the formatting of the digital text, or the characteristics of a particular reading program. We can be reading the same book and be in the same place and be on different pages.

The reality behind this, of course, is that in the digital world the word page has no meaning. A page is a physical reality which reflected the limitations of print distribution. In a seamless, endless world of digital text, we talk of pages only as convention or to represent sections. A page is not a page, and frankly a book is not a book.

In most cases this dichotomy has little impact. It doesn't matter to me what page I'm on as long as I can find my place when I return. Should anyone read my Goodreads entry, I doubt they will think me a liar because my pages don't fit within the site guidelines. Frankly the same difference has always existed between reading the hardcover and paperback versions of a book.

However, there are times when this is important. In a social sense, when I attend my book club, it is very difficult to point out a section or quote for discussion when we all have different books in front of us. Similarly, in the classroom it will become more difficult for teachers to highlight things for students (or give reading assignments). In academic writing, notation of sources will become close to impossible. This is not a quaint anachonism that can carry on as long as we dial our touch phones.

I'm not certain what the resolution is, but I think it will have to do with absolute position. Digital readers should adopt a standard of absolute position, so a bit of text can be found easily no matter the font or the source. Probably for the time being this should be tied to the pages of the paper book. Ultimately, however, this standard could allow pinpointing of not only general area, but the exact sentence or word of interest. By establishing these standards, digital readers can improve, rather than confuse, literary scholarship and discussions.

I think I've reached the bottom of the page, so I should stop.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: 'Parole perdute' Found on


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Date: Monday, 20. January 2014 15:57
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  1. 1

    I still remember my first encounter with this phenomenon. I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that there were not any page numbers until I was writing a paper for grad school and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to accurately cite the work in APA.

    I had to have a conversation with the professor and come up with a method she would accept for the class, however it almost came to pass that I would have to buy a physical book (Extra money spent was not what I wanted).

    Now, some (but not all) digital books can reference back to a physical page number. However, I think this is akin to a desperate attempt to make old ways fit new things. Academia right?

    My personal belief is that the absolute references will be used more. However there will have to be a universalized method put in place.

    I’m excited by what new technology has offered us in the way of reading. However, when it comes to research, I’ve had consciously use physical books, journals, etc. for the fear that the dissertation committee will reject my references. I think we’re on the road to great things, but there are still some hold-outs that will fight it every step of the way.

  2. 2

    Standards? We don’t need your stinking analog OCD standards.

  3. 3

    As a teacher, giving assignments and identifying highlights has been pretty easy in iBooks anyway. I just begin reciting the line, the students type it in, and viola! they are at the exact spot. They like that better than my older method (by two years, mind you) of reciting my font choice, size of font, and page I’m on in however-many-pages-the-“book”-now-has.

  4. 4

    Seriously, you must have psychic abilities as the class we are discussing this very topic in the class I am taking. I have begun avoiding physical books but have the same fear as you that I will get caught with a wrong reference. So far, so good.

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