From: Tom Howard ([email protected])
To: dialog
Subject: Dialog Feedback

For almost ten years, and to this day, I have been using an 8086 AT&T;
with a mono monitor running somewhere between NTSC and VGA. I love the
image and I love the keyboard, so that my senses are always pleased.

After putting up with a bad VGA monitor for a short time on another
machine, I now use a .25 dot pitch monitor that is simply exquisite.
However, attitudinally I had a ways to go. Also, playing with the fonts
and sizes gave me more and more physical and aesthetic reason to spend
more time, without distracting myself, to simply sit and read. It’s
coming. Stein says his electronic texts are “good enough but it’s not
beautiful,” is problematic: my mail package’s font is set at size 20.
It is dramatically attractive. I love it’s evanescent whatness.

After my second time at the Feed site, my connection to the Internet
dropped right after the Dialog page loaded. I no longer had to worry
myself about being online (that jittery, Wired feeling), and so I could
casually get another cup of tea, open a Notepad box, sit and think, and
slowly reread the Dialog, taking notes.

I don’t know about no Ms. Bovary, but there ain’t nothing like a two
dollar used, nasty little Matt Scudder detective mystery with brown pages
in bed and on the subway; though I must say Stein just about had me going
out to buy a Powerbook.

Guyer’s point is mine, only more well said, “a variable acclimation
period, which some endure more willingly than others.” She and I,
however, still have a ways to go with trying it out. I see that I do
more and more different kinds of reading, every day in every way, on my
computer. Last week it was TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the full text off
of the Internet. I have the book right here, “The Complete Poems and
Plays,” but I can’t find a darn thing in it. So, turning to the full
text electronically, I find myself manipulating the fonts, etc., and am
comfortable in going over “Little Gidding” again and again, on the
computer, not the nice hardback book.

I think that Birkerts is simply confused, perhaps because he quotes
himself too, too much. The fact that he does not accept “a word is a
word” is nonsense. He is sloppy with context (see his later reference to
Bakhtin): is he talking about a poem, say, as context or a medium as
context? The “laceration of laughter” and it’s poetic context means the
same whether you read the poem or hear the poem; completely besides the
atomic or digital matter of the poem. The latter is his messy concern
here, which is wholly rendered useless by the image of Stein in bed with
his Powerbook.

And so, in agreement with Stein, I elaborate on his incipient discussion
about “if we don’t take into account … .” The existence of Eliot on
the Internet led me to finding the quote I was looking for even though I
had the book at hand. Now, I find myself reading and enjoying more of
Eliot while seated at my computer than I ever thought possible. Not to
mention reading a digital Hamlet, Feed or HotWired.

My point being that a photograph of a painting can be extemely helpful,
enjoyable, etc., before and/or after seeing the original. A “reader’s”
copy of _The Recognitions_ is a delight to have next to a pristine First
Edition. Beautiful objects are nice to have, but they are also very nice
to just know about.

Oh, and Joyce? He’s just a wonderful nutcase.

Thank you, and drive carefully.

From: Tim Murphy
To: [email protected]
Subject: dialogue comments

I find this dialogue strangely interesting yet ultimately futile. Those
of us who use computers daily to write are comfortable with reading
prose on-screen. However, I generally print a paper trail to complete
any editing. I find margin annotations with a pen more comfortable and
relaxing. I read the final draft in the comfort of my exec-u-chair,
leaning way back with my feet propped up, cup o’ joe in one hand and a
pen behind my ear.

Usually when I’m in full recline mode, it’s difficult to see words on
the monitor, and equally difficult to move the page down. Perhaps voice
commands would help ease the transition from paper to pixel. There’s
still too much manual effort (keyboard punching) involved in scrolling,
initiating a contextual search, or highlighting passages, for the pixel
to supplant paper.

On occasion I enjoy sitting upright in bed with a PowerBook on lap
writing errant letters to friends. Yet, I generally read while flat on
my back. The problem is my arms sometimes get tired holding the book
above my eyes. If only I could project the image onto my ceiling, I
could comfortably lay with my hands behind my head. What a dream!

I’m sure you’ve noticed the multitude of references to my own
experiences. Just as I noted similar references with the Dialogue
participants. The point is none of us are going to define what is
acceptable and what is not. Some will read on screen, follow recipes on
screen, and sit on the toilet with a laptop propped on their thighs.
Most, in the short term, will not. (And not just because they don’t
have laptops.)

In the end, it will not be a conscious decision of publishers armed with
focus group research to cease applying ink to paper. The market will
ultimately decide what medium works for certain types of publishing.
Just as with the digital audio revolution when the market largely
decided that compact disks not only sounded better but were also more
convenient, paper will migrate to pixel when demand is sufficient. (Of
course, there’s still plenty of vinyl being pressed these days!)

[Characters formed in MS Word and edited on screen without the aid of

From: KarenWinters
To: [email protected]
Subject: Writing digitally; editing on paper

I just finished editing a friend’s manuscript on copyright in the
digital age, and discovered, much to my surprise, that I was far more
comfortable reviewing her work on paper even though I usually spend most
of my time reading off a monitor. For this assignment, I wanted a sense
of beginning, middle and end. I wanted to know where I “was,” spatially,
in a chapter — the finished pages on my left, the unfinished pages on my
right. For me, streaming words and characters strip away this sense of
place and structure; one is simply awash in ascii.

From: [email protected]
Subject: Birkerts response to Stein
To: [email protected]

Having an imperfect memory, myself, I recall a story I read somewhere that
one of our greatest minds (Einstein, I believe) didn’t even memorize his
own phone number. His rationale: if it’s written down somewhere and
easily accessible, then why waste time, energy, and “brain space” (my word,
not his!) memorizing it?

So who could argue with Einstein? Although I admit that I have a few
chills knowing there are children (and adults!) who cannot multiply or
divide without a calculator, or even read an analog clock.

No answers, only food for thought.

Engel (using my friend MALTAYLO’s e-mail address!)

From: Alessandro Forghieri
To: [email protected]
Subject: Linear?

Nobody here seems to contend the notion that a printed book implies linear
(sequential) access.

This is probably true when one reads a novel for the first time (though I
usually go through various locations of a book even at the first reading).
But what about browsing a book? I found it much easier to look for a particular
location in a stndard book than in an electronic text, unless I happen to
remember a keyword. Keyword searching comes much easier to me when
perusing a reference text (say, a manual, or an encyclopaedia), much less in
the instance of a novel, where the ability of opening the book at ‘about the
right spot’ and then finding the right spot by quick browsing probably beats
any keyword search I would be able to do.

Umberto Eco has noted that a book is a medium that is unsurpassed as far as
random access is concerned, and probably a technological point of arrival in
that respect.

Now, links are a different matter. But that the aveage reader (of which I
consider myself a specimen) can truly handle a heavily hyperlinked text is
unclear to me (again, manuals, reference works and the like are a totally
different matter).

I see hyperlinks as something akin to parallel programming (here my profession
sneaks in). When it first was envisioned, parallel programming was presented as
the panacea that would cure all the illnesses of programming. Everyone was
badmouthing the linear nature of traditional programming (rings a bell?).
However, it turned out that writing truly parallel code was something that most
people could not handle, and tools to make it easier did not emerge ( nobody
could write them, because writing parallel code was so difficult…). This is
to say nothing of debugging.
Now, it’s twenty years later, we are still writing C (or Perl, Fortran), in a
very sequential fashion, and operating systems still deadlock.

Methinks that parallel (or hyperlinked) thought comes very difficult to most
people, if it comes at all. I know it is difficult for me, and actually I tend
to find that pages with several links are forbidding, rather than stimulating.

This can be very subjective, obviously, and besides, maybe a linked way of
thnking, or reading is a skill that can be learned over theyears, or maybe over
the generations.

Or then again, maybe it cannot, just as we never learned how to fly…

Alessandro Forghieri

From: [email protected]
Subject: What an interesting thought ..
To: [email protected]

I think Allessandro has hit upon something that has fascinated me
recently in the process of reading text (yes, paper) and Web pages.
Texts (my age will show here), of the paper sort have changed of late;
they are shorter and have intersperced in them, shorter still,
references. It is as if attention spans have lessened. It seems as
though people are only expected to comprehend text up to, but not beyond
4 sentences. As evidence, go check the Web. Two sentence paragraphs are
really very common and I admit that I find myself writing that way, as
though more than that will be taxing to my reader.

I’m not sure we do ourselves justice, or our readers a favor, by not
requiring more effort on their part. The Web is a fascinating and
wonderful place to explore; it is not always a literate place. Print
books are not always literate. I spend hours with print; I spend hours
here on line. They each have their fascination and each their
limitation. I can’t read this screen when the power is off, though I can
if I am determined light an oil lamp and continue with my print copy. I
can’t link to other related topics in my printed text, though I can here.
I’m not sure that either the virtues or the liabilities of either medium
will change in the immediate future.

From: [email protected] (Jeff Morris)
To: [email protected]
Subject: A paradox…actually, three doxes

Having just read Alessandro Forghieri’s argument that the
bound book provides easier random access, I find I agree. I
find keyword searching very frustrating. In searching a technical
document, the feel of the paper brushing off my thumb as I flip
for a familiar page provides an added sensory input. My mind’s
search program uses this, along with perhaps a subconscious
image of how the data I’m looking for visually fit its page can
sometimes land me home in a second or two. Do I use smells to
find data in a reference? I could. My human brain might use
cues lacking on my laptop. “Two pages after the coffee stain
that looks like Vermont.”

I don’t have to wonder if the paper book is more usable as
a reference. Daily, in automation programming I use a (paper)
notebook called an ICD (Interface Control Document). I have
this document in electronic format. The good old paper notebook
is just faster. Much faster. Here’s where the paradox forms.
One would think that a laptop computer would be very useful for
holding and puking forth technical information. Not so. I do
prefer to read fiction and prose on a computer! Being able to
scroll past the page breaks like they do not exist, I find that
written art presents itself in a much more fluid and natural
fashion. At least for me, in these contexts, the horse makes
for better plowing while the Buick provides a prettier Sunday

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: Electronic Documentation

A lot of this conversation seems to be focusing on the joy of reading. I
think the discussion loses a lot, if the scope is not broadened to “reasons
for reading” ( i.e. information gathering, news, general communication). The
invention of the printing press was a great day for mankind. Thoughts and
literary creations of some of the greatest minds the earth has ever known
were made accessible to the common man This event allowed knowledge to be
shared by a new intellectual class, independent of social or economic
standing, able learn and think based on their own intellectual capabilities.
One can’t help but wonder what this world would be like, if the media for
communicating information was something other than a printed page (a very
simple linear model). How many other great minds would the world have

We often identify genius, with those who have the ability to identify
simplicity a midst complexity, seeing the forest from the trees. Is it the
genius’s ability to take information presented in a linear fashion and
organize it in a multi dimentional non-linear model that puts them head and
shoulders above the rest of us?

The novelist paints landscapes in our minds, inspires thoughts and intrigues
us with a plot, through the craft of organizing words according to a set of
semantic rules called a language. They have learned how to over come the
restriction of print , and work in a multi dimentional non-linear space, our

Technology is yet again liberating the common man. Although it may be
intimidating to some, it is intriguing to others. Electronic documentation
is nothing more than a new media for conveying information. The fact that it
has the ability to represent information in a non-linear fashion, may be the
key for unlocking greatness.

It may be very narrow on my part, but I don’t believe that people fall in
love with the serif of a font or the bond of a page, they fall in love with
the writings of an author. Simply, because reading makes them feel alive.

From: [email protected] (Seth Rothberg)
To: [email protected]
Subject: Reading bits

1. Books made scrolling unnecessary but digital reading brings it back.Too
bad. Scrolling is an awkward way of moving through a text. Pages are much

2. Writers have asked readers to put the poem together, or participate in
making the poem a poem, for some time now. Hypertext is nothing new that
way. I think of Wallace Stevens. Quoting from memory: “One’s grand flights,
one’s Sunday baths, one’s tooting at the weddings of the soul, occur as
they occur.”

3. Plenty of printed novels are non-linear. Why is non-linear better than

From: [email protected] (Deborah Miller )
Subject: Round table discussion on etext vs print text
To: [email protected]

Good Evening. I read with some interest the articles posted by your
panelists and i’d like to add a few thoughts on the subject if I may.

I am an artist and have done most of my work on computer during the
last several years. One problem that I have experienced is the somewhat
sterile interface between the artist and the media. Traditional tools
and materials involve the senses in a way that electronic media cannot,
at least at this point in time. The heft of a brush, pen or chisel, the
smell of paints and solvents, the feel of clay, stone or wood. These
are all part of the creative experience. I love the look, smell and
feel of different papers. Find an old art supply store that carries a
stock of different weights and textures of papers in large sheets,
usually in nifty wooden cabinets with lots of large flat drawers, and
just spend a bit of time marveling at the visual and tactile variety.
I feel the same about books. The computer can not give me the touch,
the feel or the smell as well as the content which is the gestalt of
the reading experience for me. Also, once I purchase a book, it is mine
to hold, display and thumb through until I love it to pieces. Obviously
I am not anti-tech or I wouldnt be here. But to give up my books…..?

From: [email protected] (Andy Cohen)
To: [email protected]
Subject: Empowerment

I found the the dialogue somewhat tiresome at times, though also quite
interesting. I have been involved with several “multilogues” via old-time
media, much akin to electronic mailing lists.

These forms have many of the characteristics you described (asynchronicity
being the heart of all of it, including the looping). They’re useful
forms, and I like them. However, this dialogue was more like watching
a talk show, in that it felt like a lot of posturing rather than simple,
honest discussion…that’s a bit harsh, as I did find some of it interesting.

I would be interested in learning (via direct e-mail if possible) who
Michael Joyce was referring to in talking of conceptual frameworks — Futuria?

I loved Carolyn Guyer’s last contribution. Your comments on “empowerment”
are apt and seldom discussed — which makes a lot of sense given the
framework of this culture. You put it so clearly it’s exhilarating!
When you consider your comments in the light of so-called free speech, the
concept as practiced in the USA is a putrid doppelganger.

I fundamentally agree with your sentiment as to imagine what we want and then
create it. However, I’m a bit pessimistic. Cultural forms are usually
co-opted…certainly the individual creators can reap the purely individual
benefits of creation (inner growth), but to individually benefit from
the culture is not as likely (material benefits, cultural recognition).
If dangerous to cultural power brokers — it’s sure to be co-opted, and
or relegated to backwaters. As I write this, I’m amazed at how fatalistic
I feel/sound — depressing.

(I’d appreciate responses, if any, sent to me directly as I seldom explore
the web. Thanks.)

From: Jefferson Berlin
To: [email protected]
Subject: (no subject)

Having read the text thus far, I can’t help but feel that the heart of
the argument revolves around the “malleability” of electronic text, and
the various forms that takes. At this I felt my old annoyance at the
hubris of people who want to “participate” in or “change” or “co-author”
someone else’s work. One of the things I am most curious about is the
vast difference between creating and editing, how difficult it is to
cross the mental wasteland to the former, and how easy to leap into the
latter. I happen to love computers, believe paper is an endangered
species, and approach electronic text with considerable good will and
interest, but at the same time, I find the idea of using a search engine
to line up all the “facts” about a character appalling–I instantly
wanted to deny any and all readers the right to that facility! It seems
to me that one of the things we’d want to go to some length to preserve
in electronic text is the rhythm and pace of a writer’s work. Part of
the pleasure and work of reading is in submitting to another universe.
This searching nonsense smells of using Evelyn Wood’s forefinger to scan
“The Great Gatsby” or “Moby Dick.” There’s too much arrogance for me in
the notion of either jumping around in or manipulating F. Scott
Fitzgerald–or even in encouraging that kind of thing. On the other
hand, when Mr. Birkerts suggests that we may one day become simply
custodians for the facts we have stored on computers–I think we are
already way down that road, and it was books (or maybe more permissive
schools) that took us there. I’ve never memorized more than a line or
two of anything in my 42 years and am fascinated by anyone who has, but
I remember where I read most everything–and how to find it. We’ve been
cataloging machines far longer than computers have been around.

This is a wonderful, thought-provoking discussion. Thanks!

From: Lance Laack
To: [email protected]
Subject: Cultural Consequences of Electronic Txt

As wonderful as it may be to have hypertext links and the ability to
capture text, the experience of reading electronic text using today’s
technology removes important elements found in conventional printed
material – the creative use of typography and the experience of the
printed page.

Text on the net is, for the most part, viewable in the user-defined
typestyle. For advanced users, this means viewing all material in their
favorite face, for others this means working with the default set by the
application. In either case, publishing creativity and creating a tone
suitable for the text at hand is lost in the interest of the lowest
common denominator, usually Times, Courier or Helvetica.

This results in art being dictated by limited technological capabilities
– in short technological regression. Surely we are all the poorer for
this. Where would our sense of aesthetics be today if publishers since
Gutenberg were forced to use only Times and Helvetica?

The thrilling and sometimes surprising experience of a fine book set in
an appropriate and well-designed face is often lost. As a result, we
read Dante, Shakespeare or James in the same face, either suiting our
generalized personal preferences or those selected by the computer

Aside from the discussion on readability, the printed page often holds
a history of its own. Reading a finely-weathered antique page conveys a
sense of the lasting value of its content. Similarly, there is a special
charm in reading a Dostoyevsky or Hardy volume that has been passed from
friend to friend and bound by a rubber band, in testimony to the many
who have passed through the pages before.

From: [email protected] ( DOMINIQUE P NOTH)
To: [email protected]
Subject: Romancing the stone and ice

As much as I may feel that Bob Stein romanticized a bit the pleasures
of the cuddly Powerbook in bed, there is the larger danger that we
are speaking of comfort and aesthetics in reading in such a way as to
suggest that reading should be a comfortable act and that the
objective aesthetics (as opposed to the personal aesthetics such as
the environment in which each of us prefers to read, with food or
without, in what physical contortion, etc.) are deciding factors: I
read becaue the type and the page feel or the screen display — take
those away and I won’t read? Do I read for comfort, or for the hard
work my mind. Do I expect no physical discomfort from a paperback

Hardly. Comfort and aesthetics — things outside the act of
reading — are supporting factors.

The issue is still why does someone read and what are they
expecting? More and more people reading on computers are perhaps
learning to expect a different experience than when they are reading
off a printed page. They may even expect Madame Bovary to GIF-dance!

Currently, despite the hours I spend reading off a computer, I
am transported more out of myself, unaware of my surroundings, by the
printed page. That is partly tradition and partly psychological.
Certainly, in the realm of fiction or (FEED excepted) better editing
and even (dare I say it?) a sense of value, print may still have the
edge. Certainly it is less common these days to turn to the computer
for a purely text experience, and the multimedia dimensions sometimes
may prove a greater limitation on the imagination than the evocations
of character and image created by mere text.

But give me the content that absorbs, give me conditions in which
I can lose myself in the text (and its various links, without waiting
for my modem to catch up) and I’ll read more happily on a computer–
but maybe for different things

I can word-search better on a computer, but I can flip back and
ahead, and pause or leap forward, better in print. Develop
hypertext and other links that enhance my imaginative and
philosophical sense, and I may not feel so much the loss of freedom
that a bad icon next to the text creates, or even a good icon or
graphic that doesn’t quite match what was in my mind.

From: [email protected] (Scott Fisher)
To: [email protected]
Subject: What you are speaks so loudly…

I find that the most fascinating part of this most fascinating discussion is
that no one seems to be able to articulate what the discussion itself
exemplifies: that the computer’s ability to provide nonlinear interaction
between the reader and the read so closely imitates an important part of
human creativity — the ability to synthesize.

The classical structure of a Greek ode was in three parts: the thesis, or
initial argument; the antithesis, or refutation; and the synthesis, a new
proposition that arose by resolving the previous two. Hypertext makes this
possible almost instantaneously (or at least whenever the damn icon stops
spinning when you click on the Web link).

Each topic at either end of the link has its own context, in the sense of the
story’s dramatic unfolding or in the context of the information being taught
or looked up. When you bring together related ideas with completely
different context structures, you make it possible to have this kind of
synthesis of ideas, with a velocity never before available to a mass market.
I’m sure that if I sat down at a table with the four contributors here, we’d
fly from topic to topic with some alacrity. What electronic publishing makes
possible is the ability for thousands of people, at great distances and even
separated by time, to participate in the same kind of creative synthesis.

I’d love to correspond with any of you further on this; I’m currently putting
together a panel on this topic for an upcoming conference on interactive
communication, and some of the ideas I’ve read here would spark much interest
in the context of the other panelists I have in mind. And thanks to for putting together this exciting resource!

Want to get in on the conversation? Send your e-mail responses
to [email protected].

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