Two recent posts on digital media have got me thinking:

First, this post at @craigmod talks about “formless content” and “definite content” and how this relates to printed books vs. e-readers. Mod’s goal is to come up with a way to determine what type of content should be digitalized. It’s an interesting discussion about how our perception of publishing might and/or should change in the digital age, and relates specifically to the ipad.

Biblioklept responds here, with some valid questions of a few of Mod’s ideas.

I have just a little something to add about a notion that Mod only quickly touches on, the experience of holding a book vs. an e-reader and how that might influence our reading and our after-reading experience. I am actually really curious how having mostly all of our stories on one device will change how we approach our “personal libraries”. Right now, the books I keep in my home all have a second-layer of texture (the covers, the paper texture, the smell of the book, the marginalia right on the page as opposed to somewhere else on the device…all of which varies from book to book) on top of the story as I remember it after I’ve read it.

I’ve yet to separate that experience from the imagined landscape of whatever novel or story I’m reading. Added of course to where I put the book upon finishing it. This all matters to me because I do go back and reference the books I’ve read, either in discussions, in reviews, while I’m reading something else. When I begin that mental process of reflecting on a book, I do imagine its form and location, however briefly, before I move further into a consideration of the story.

I’ve now read several works on my Kindle (The Maid by Yasutaka Tsutsui, Nicholas Nickleby…) and the reading experience is fine, comfortable, smooth, but when I want to refer to any of these books, my mind actually visualizes my Kindle, which is a bit stale, and of course identical for each book, before moving on to the layer of the text. And when I think about Nicholas Nickleby, as a whole text, for example, it exists for me as a kind of semi-invisible block of data inside the limbo of my Kindle as well as a vibrant, emotional narrative landscape. It has a very different physicality compared to my other printed books and this will always be a part of my overall reading experience.

Perhaps this is because I have a photographic memory, that I’m a visual learner, so the method I use to absorb the story is an integral part of my experience with a particular text. But it’s an interesting question for me, because maybe, one day, if most of my library is housed on a small number of digital devices, the experience of revisiting favorite works, of mentally cataloguing my library will be vastly different than it is now. I don’t think it will be necessarily bad, but it will be quite different. Flatter, I suppose. Although Mod’s point is that the ipad will allow for new textures, so there is an additional question there. But I do wonder whether any digitally-created texture, displayed on a flat screen will be able to give me a three-dimensional mental texture other than the container that displays the content?