Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

I am concerned about our magical-realism-like position in the transitional phase between non-digital world and the digital one. There are a few generations before us and there would be few generations after us who would experience such a transitional period in their own lives before the digital world conquers the whole territory. Regarding the crazy speed of this transition, I think in our lifetime we would encounter generations who stand in the conquered territory rather than the transitory one, and would not have any experience of non-digital reading and writing, whatsoever. In my digital essay, I want to talk about a probable time in the future when we will have to teach to generations that have never experienced reading printed books.

I wonder if we are going to have a sense of alienation, inferiority, indifference or even superiority in encountering generations who have never experienced our transitory phase and what existed before. What would be the use of our non-digital reading years in facing purely digital readers? Is our background going to be diminished to a fantasy story about recent-ancient times in which books were made of dead trees, to be told to our grandchildren who will not even need us to tell them stories? What could we take with us, besides our nostalgic senses, from the centuries of printed books and our personal experiences of it to the decades of pure electronic reading?

I intend to focus on reading experience more than writing experience as a touchstone to explore the digital generation gaps that would widen when our transitional period is over. I’m thinking about creating an interactive medium, with pictures, videos and hyperlinks, to stimulate the static form of printed books versus the dynamic potentialities of digital ones. I have not decided about the ultimate formatting yet. Do you have any suggestions for that?

To talk about the resources, I am already influenced by most materials discussed in DW685; however, I might get back to Baron and Standage for this essay. Merkosiki’s Burning the page : the eBook revolution and the future of reading , Sue Polanka’s No Shelf Required  (1&2) and John Palfrey’s  Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Nativescould be other primary resources of my work. Also, I would like to review Dr. Miller’s talk in UD, Habits of the Creative Mind, if I have access to its video or transcripts (Could I?). If there are any specific online or printed resources that you think I should see or read before getting into this project, I would be happy to take your advice.

I expect to write an exploratory essay, a mélange of imagination, prediction, and exploration; it might come up with more questions than answers.



4 thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind”

  1. Naghmeh,

    This project sounds interesting and rich. I think you’re right that we are likely to see the disappearance or at least serious marginalization of print reading materials within our lifetimes. Even the archives, a place we might have reasonably expected to be a holdout for print/material culture, are becoming part of the digital world. When I was doing archival research on Austen’s Northanger Abbey for Siobhan Carroll’s Transatlantic Gothic seminar a few weeks ago, I found an original 1818 copy of the text on This site has taken digital pictures of the book, and has set up the book to actually simulate the experience of turning the pages. This might be an interesting area for you to explore and theorize: what does it mean to simulate the print experience of reading in a digital environment? What is gained or lost? How does this type of reading impact the way we interact with the text as an object?

    That’s just the one thought that came immediately to mind. I’m excited about your project!


  2. Nagmeh,

    I look forward to reading this essay, since your proposal for it is already so eloquent and elegiac! My hunch is that something like WordPress will be a good platform for you, since it will allow you to quote and analyze texts in various formats and media.

    Kiley’s comment prompted another thought: There are still a number of publications that quit consciously offer a kind of facsimile version of their print editions onscreen: The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Yorker. It might be interesting to look at their strategies, successful or not, for trying to preserve the experience of reading print.

    I’ve read Palfrey and think it will be useful for you. The other books I don’t know and will be interested to learn what you make of them.

    Good luck!


  3. Naghmeh,

    I would also add that video might be a useful tool for you to really display the different affordances of print v. digital reading practices.

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