Three More Days

Thesis Book 2010

This Thursday at 12:40 p.m., I have to publicly present some sort of something about my vague and fugitive master’s thesis. The talk—about ten minutes’ worth—will be streamed online so you, my friends, can all point and laugh, and the video will be archived somewhere (hopefully somewhere dark and offline) after the event.

Oy vey.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what the hell to say and show, and I’ve had to write a short description of my work for a (printed!!) book of my class’s thesis projects—a book that was, of course, laid out by me, who obviously had nothing better to do with my time. The following is the lofty prose I came up with, sometime between birds-tweeting-time and sunrise this morning:

As an ardent textist—one who is concerned with language, typography, and the way the two interact to help us comprehend and share ideas—I am both anxious and excited to discover how electronic reading ­software affects the reading experience, positively and negatively, and how it can be improved.

Each of the many e-reading interfaces now available—whether on dedicated reading appliances or on multi­function devices such as computers, cell phones, and the iPad—has a different way of handling typography, layout, navigation, bookmarking, annotation, search, and library management. Some applications handle certain tasks better than others, but none of them yet supports the needs of an engaged reader well enough to fully replace traditional paper books.

And if they could . . . what happens to our comprehension and our ability to make use of what we learn when we read using an electronic device? Does reading e-books change the way we understand text? Does it make learning harder or easier? Does the use of e-books have consequences for children, for the dyslexic, for people with poor working memory? Does it have particular ramifications for scholars? If researchers shift to using e-books for more of their sources, will that change the nature of their findings?

I have been exploring these issues through hands-on examination of e-reading devices and software, by following the discourse among publishers and avid e-book readers online, and by reviewing scholarly research in the field. By sharing my findings and encouraging further discussion of these issues, I hope to help raise the standards of e-book formatting, e-reading software, and e-reader hardware so that they better support the many types of reading we do, and to further the design of e-reading environments that can help readers learn more, understand more, and enjoy reading more.

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

Cross-posted at the old blog location, for faithful readers’ convenience. I’m still fixing broken links and glitches from the move, so if you see anything weird here, please drop me a note: india at

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