The form factor of the book has really not changed in about 500 years – a book is a book. You could go back to the First Folio and open it up and read it just like you could open and read a book that was published yesterday. But the rules have changed with this new technology, and so what we’re thinking about is where the new rules come from.
While writing for a so-called “responsive” mobile publishing platform, an author discovers that a basic building block of books needs a makeover. The paragraph is dead, declares Michael Greer one minute. Long live the paragraph, he says the next.
Once upon a time, authors and readers alike lived in a world of certainty. Books were produced and consumed in more-or-less linear fashion. As grade school grammar teachers have long taught about essays, books in this earlier era had a beginning, a middle, and an end. No longer. On a variety of digital handheld devices, the reader has taken charge and scrambled the established order. In 2017, the reader determines where she reads, what she reads, and when she reads.
An educator and editor who has worked in higher education for over 20 years and who teaches online courses in editing and publishing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Michael Greer is currently working on a digital textbook project, The Technology of the Book, for Gadget Software. Greer has conducted numerous usability studies on college textbooks, published research on textbook design and usability, and studied the ways in which students read and use their textbooks. But his latest writing assignment has forced him to throw out much of what he knows – or thought he knew – about writing for textbooks, right down to the justification for composing a paragraph.
“Part of the content of this mobile textbook, The Technology of the Book, is print history. We are looking at the history of book publishing, and the history of printing technology, and the history of reading. Students are encouraged to reflect on what is it like to read on this new [mobile and handheld] device in the context of the history of the form factor of the book,” explained Greer.
“The form factor of the book has really not changed in about 500 years – a book is a book. You could go back to the First Folio and open it up and read it just like you could open up and read a book that was published yesterday. You would not need a tutorial,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“But the rules have changed with this new technology, and so what we’re thinking about is where the [new] rules come from. I encourage students to think about that,” Greer said.