English 30 reflections post #3 and my own reading experiences

I’ve been meaning to journal about teaching English 30 a bit more frequently this term, but just haven’t been forcing myself to write this term like I have in the past. So far, I’m excited about the strong conversations my students are having in class — my students are smart, nuanced, and pick up on some interesting things that I might never had considered. I am having some frustrations with the design of the classroom, which keeps computer screens between everyone and also causes voices to get lost in the hum of the screens, but that’s something that we can work on. And my students have been willing to have a bit of metadiscourse about the way we have been communicating with one another. Today, I’m planning on moving us around a bit — getting away from the desks for a conversation about our reading today, which is the introduction to Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You.

How is the Sony ebook Reader going? Eh, I’m not impressed with it. My students are frustrated by the slow page turning rate when they read pdf’s, as am I. In fact, for the graduate course I’m in, I barely read on the machine anymore. I print off the journal articles that we are “supposed” to read on the Reader so that I can have paper in front of me and mark it all up. It’s easier to read on the Reader when we’re using an ebook, such as Everything, which actually reads nicely, I think. My problem is that when it comes to reading on the reader, I read too quickly because I can’t have a pen in my hand to slow me down and make marginalia. I like marking in the book, not saving notes elsewhere, because I inevitably lose those notes or forget about them, whether I hand-write them or type them.

This post is becoming more about my reading habits than my students’ and my class, so I’ll make one last comparison about my reading habits. I bought an iPhone on Friday, and so far, I am using it a lot and getting a lot out of it. (Went to New York City this weekend — not sure how I’d get around as easily if I hadn’t brought an iPhone with me, esp. in New Jersey, where I parked my car but had trouble finding the parking lot because New Jersey’s road signs are so awful.) Last week my students read Sloane’s “The Haunting of Story J” from Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Sloane argues that new literacy technologies are not completely and radically new, but that instead we bring prior habits and expectations from previous literacy technologies, as well as our own personal history and cultural assumptions, even if they are “wrong” or not useful. My students on Friday started discussing some of the prior activities that “haunt” our use of the Reader (including, interestingly, the Nintendo DS and the iPod). This view, a genealogical one, allows us to understand that there isn’t a linear transformation of literacy technologies, from the scroll to the hand-written codex, to the printed book, to the eReader.

How is my use of the eReader “haunted” by my prior and current literacy activities, as well as my own assumptions and personal beliefs and experiences with literacy technologies? I keep comparing the Reader to my print reading activities, but I think the biggest frustration comes from how I have more expectations of a screen than the Reader can cope with. I expect to be able to click on a screen and move through ideas. I expect to be able to highlight and annotate in some fashion, even if it’s copy and pasting text. I’m used to being able to listen to music on the same machine that I read, and to be able to quickly and easily flip over to my music to change the song. (On the Reader, songs play in alphabetical order and you have to leave your reading, go back to the main menu, and then go to the music section to change the song you’re listening to.) On my laptop, where I do lots of reading and writing, I don’t even have to go to iTunes to change the song, but can instead use the function keys at the top of my keyboard.

The Reader seems limited in so many ways because it doesn’t attune itself to the reading and writing practices of web2.0 users — it’s not so much that it fails to remediate the book (though it does fail this in some important ways). Imagine if Apple had made this ebook reader. You’d be able to zoom in by using your fingers; you’d be able to select text with your fingers and a keyboard would pop up (which is close to what happens on the newer version of the Sony Reader, though you use a stylus); you’d be able to quickly and easily change music you’re listening to; pdfs would be easier to read and not load so slowly. One thing that is nice about the Reader is its eInk that doesn’t burn out my eyes as I read, but this doesn’t seem very important because of how impatient I am with the Reader. I’d rather read on my iPhone, which has a much smaller screen but that might actually burn out my eyes more quickly.

This entry was posted in English 30 Language Technology and Culture (Spring 2009), English 584 Postcritical Perspectives in Literacy Studies (Spring 2009), Literacy, New Media. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to English 30 reflections post #3 and my own reading experiences

  1. Dennis says:

    My question: Who is the Reader meant to be used by? Is its target audience not known to scribble notes in the margins?

    As an aside, there is such an opportunity for a great ‘notes in the margin’ system: Highlight a block of text, click a button/touch part of the screen, and a window opens up for the user to write a note in – the proverbial margin. This note could even be tagged, but certainly they would be searchable and their presence indicated by some sort of marker on that block of text that you saw every time you scrolled past it.

    In other words, creating a feature that functions similar to how readers actually go about reading articles + iPhone-like ease of use + tagging/web 2.0 tech.

  2. Michael says:

    The Reader’s target audience is the leisure reading public, which is why it doesn’t work so well for academic work or for web2.0 reading/writing interaction. Sony is looking to get into higher ed markets, so that’s why we are using it — as a pilot program to give Sony feedback. Plus, it’s a great experiment into literacy activities of college students.

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