Author akallish

From the Tanagram Archives : Is There an Architect in the House?

Please Note : This post  from the Tanagram Spill blog archives, which was deactivated recently, is being reposted on my blog.

I recently attended the Information Architecture Institute Idea 2008 Conference, October 7-8 in Chicago. The theme of the conference was ” . . . on designing complex information spaces of all kinds.”

What was intriguing about this particular conference was the diversity of people, both in professional and geographic terms. There were graphic designers, interaction designers, technical leads, managers, and oh yes  . . . “information architects.” What was interesting about the attending information architects was that they came from so many backgrounds to become an information architect. There were actual classically trained architects that became IA’s, there were designers that were IA’s and so on.

When Richard Saul Wurman coined the term Information Architect in the late 1980′s, he was an architect that was designing travel books (Access Press) and was trying to come up with a term for designers that create information intensive artifacts. Since we cannot really agree on what the exact meaning of “information” and “architect”, I have come to the conclusion that merging the words into a concept would be difficult. I have hired several IA’s professionally and have come to the conclusion that there is little agreement of what an IA is and even what their outputs are. This was evident at the Idea conference, that there was no attempt in defining the term.

The first speaker was blogger David Armano who spoke on “Micro-Interactions in a 2.0 World.” A well-known and dynamic speaker, David took participants down a very rapid terrain of design, marketing and business through technological innovations. His central premise is that we are moving from passive consumers to active participants through existing social architecture technologies – not custom applications. Since all of our devices are internet enabled, the notion of a traditional browser experience is giving way to smaller more intimate digital apps that do one or two things. We as users cross-link these apps together. He used the term “life streams” to name this process of “engage, enable, and empower” our actions through a model of “usefulness, utility and ubiquity.” David also articulated new digital ecosystems such as the Nike Touch which uses “engagement” of “deposits” and “withdrawls” with several micro-functionalities bundled together. Social networks by their very nature amplify communications and he asked the audience what their “passion point” was.

Elliott Malkin, an artist from New York discussed “Information in Space.” His passionate and precise presentation went down a very indirect route that got me very excited. His initial metaphor was the hassidic concept of an eruv, or a physical demarkation between a secular world and a religious world using the same space. He referred to this psychographic space as having strong conceptual power for the intended group and for what for most people would not even notice. Unfortunately, I thought he was going to bring the metaphor back to digital technology and social architecture, but instead he discussed using digital technology to create a virtual eruv that could be monitored without rabbi’s going out to check if the eruv physical demarcations were intact. The implications of this metaphor in discussing how a shared space could have unique “functionalities” for different groups at the same time holds great promise.

Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path presented “Envisoning the Future of the Web.” They worked with the Mozilla Foundation in exploring the future of web browsers. Their concept is called Project Aurora. Now, when dealing with the future of anything, especially technology, it is difficult since we tend to use established conventions and behaviors and link it to a future that people can understand. Star Trek did it best by taking human behaviors and linking them to technologies that did not necessarily need to describe their inner workings. As viewers, especially hooked viewers, we understood the galactic federation model and the value system of the show to put the expressions and technologies in context.

With the future of a browser, Adaptive Path focused on augmented reality, or the overlay of digital information on the real world where there will be  data abundance and the question will be how to we visualize, focus and manage all of it cognitively and socially. Processing power, storage capacity, bandwith and graphic capabilities of computers will impact how we interact with each other through the digital cloud. “Context awareness,” “natural interaction,” and “continuity” would allow for more natural collaborations. Each of us would have a semantic profile and with geolocation, would allow for very rich interactions between people where ever they are. Two main questions arose from the audience. What was the time horizon of Project Aurora? Jesse stated they had a 10 year window into the future (this would be the equivalent of 40 years in technological terms). He said they had to balance “compelling” with “plausible” in their vision. My view was that their vision was too contemporary and linked to current “plausible” scenarios. The second question was that their concept could be viewed that the browser was an operating system. Jesse made it clear that they did not want to address the operating system vs. browser question, but in my mind the two converge in their scenario.

Chris Crawford a former game designer for Atari presented an interesting perspective on “Linguistic User Interfaces.” His perspective on intelligent systems is that smart computers that could interact with humans using extensive language patterns is not realistic. This is due to the Sapir/Wharf hypothesis that inside the human mind language and reality exist together.

Chris’ interesting take is that with games, a model for a computer to interact with humans is much more manageable since the worlds are much smaller. He further elaborated that software, verbs define the program and is core to the human/computer interface. With most current software, as the verb count increases, accessibility and expectability reduces. 100 verbs is the limit for most users. Chris is currently developing a linguistic user interface (LUI) for programs that can create stories. I found his perspective very compelling.

Alberto Canas, of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) presented a surprising presentation called “From Meaningful Learning to a Network of Knowledge Builders.” IHMC has created the popular language mapping program CMAP, which I have on my computer. What was informative about his presentation on CMAP were examples of its application (pun intended). Knowledge essentially are concepts that are linked together with prepositions to make a relationship (this was a wonderfully simple definition). Humans have created written language to describe concepts that cannot easily be illustrated. CMAP are concept maps linked by phrases to form propositions. I already knew this in principle. Alberto then showed the power of CMAP through an ongoing project with the Panamanian government giving school children CMAP to describe their lives. The power of CMAP is that users can link images and web page addresses to their maps and can also link concept maps to other concept maps. They are essentially mini-websites which are non-linear. I will not look at CMAP the same way and believe that its potential is not fully understood by a large cross section of users.

Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals presented a lucid lecture called “Getting Real.” I had not heard Jason speak before, but am a heavy user of Basecamp and a real fan of its simplicity and how reliable it is. Jason is a real visionary and  their development process flies in the face of every convention that most digital consultancies use. They do not “plan” anything, do no “specification” documents, and do not use “actor or personas.” They focus on building things and figure out how to do it over time. Keep things small, use sharpie markers as the finest resolution when sketching ideas, and only have a core set of functions (a simple core).

Part of me was aghast, but I quickly saw the logic to their process. If you are designing for yourselves and then find users, the 37Signals model is perfect. Unfortunately, if you collaborate with clients to define the problem and then facilitate understanding, then the 37Signals model will not work. However (you knew there was going to be a “but”) I totally agree with his concept of “scratching your itch” and doing things with passion.

Aradhana Goel of IDEO gave one of the most thought provolking presentations called “Emerging Trends, Design Thinking, Service Innovation.” We have all heard of IDEO and it is one of the most influential innovative firms (along with Pentagram) merging design and engineering. Aradhana was trained as an architect and has only recently become involved with service design. Her perspective on human factors was clear and in alignment with my understanding. What was powerful was her ideas around linking human factors with trend factors. Human factors focus on digging into context, while trend factors find the context. She went on to compare and contrast these two areas and how service design is a logical next step in productizing intangible experiences.

Bill DeRouchey of Ziba Design gave a very direct and engaging discussion on “The Language of Interaction.” His deconstruction of everyday visual clues that we take for granted and their constant reinterpretation and reapplication to other situations was informative, common sense, but insightful.

Overall, there were several key themes that all speakers seemed to focus upon:
1) browsers are giving way to other internet enabled experiences
2) Windows, Icon, Mouse, Pointer system is under stress
3) Transaction is more than money
4) Link several apps, not one killer app
5) Focus on experiences, not just interactions

Upon reflection, I found this conference very fulfilling and reinforced certain convictions, challenged others and provided a very positive mental workout for me (which is what good conferences should do). I would like to compliment IAI for the organization of the conference and the lunches with different groups of people was enjoyable. There were twelve speakers in two days, interspersed with group lunches around the Chicago loop.

The IAI did not go down an exististential vortex of what an information architect is or is not (though it came close at times), which would have been a divisive and somewhat unimaginative exercise. Instead they linked together several strains of interesting ideas and left the participants to decide what it meant to them.

Little Bits Add Up to Big Things

I was recently watching CNN and there was a short story about Little Bits, a company started by Ayah Bdeir.

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vimeo Direkt

She has created an open source library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping and play. Each bit has a simple unique function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc) which snap to make larger circuits.

Play is an important activity as it couples exploration, enjoyment and stimulation which both teases the mind and can affect very pragmatic activities. With play, trial-and-error is an important learning tool to intake the rules of what works and gets you to an objective – and what doesn’t. Little Bit’s larger goal is to create scientific thinkers and problem-solvers through exposing children to empirical science through play.

With children, there have been many toys that have been designed as a kit of parts such as Froebel Blocks, lincoln logs, tinker toys, erector sets, and of course Legos. Little Bits seems to refer to Lego as an analogy, with the difference that Little Bits are pre-programmed as either power, input, output or a wire. Lego also was a lightning rod at MIT in 1986 when the MIT Media Lab brought the first LEGO based educational products to market by Seymour Papert and Marvin Minksy. In an interview with Marvin Minsky, he discussed why they merged Lego and programming together :

When my friend, Seymour Papert, first invented LOGO, I had the same experience again. LOGO has some things like sticks—except that their computer commands: a stick 100 units long is called “FORWARD 100″. LOGO also has things like spools: “RIGHT: 90″ starts a second stick at right angles to the last one you drew. I recognized old building-friends at once. Source

The goal was to merge toy building systems with basic programming to bring to another level of play what a toy could do. Lego now has very sophisticated robotic toys such as Mindstorms. However, there is something very basic and wonderful about non-representational toys such as Little Bits which focus on creating basic programmed objects that can then be made more and more sophisticated as a child interacts and learns to build upon basic concepts. It is the best of both worlds where building and action come together.

Unfortunately at this time, it is not possible to adjust the parameters of the Little Bit sensors through an API. Ayah’s goal is to ramp up production and reduce the cost of the kits so they are more affordable. So for now, Little Bits are being used by adults and families that have the income to afford them. This does not detract from their value and are proving that play and learning through interaction can be both fun – and informative.

From the Tanagram Archives : When Thinking is Making

Please Note : This post  from the Tanagram Spill blog archives, which was deactivated recently, is being reposted on my blog.

Nate Burgos sent me a link about a new institute that is being created between Stanford University and the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design to investigate design thinking. They defined it as a methodology that melds an end-user focus with multidisciplinary collaboration and iterative improvement to produce products, services or experiences. Their theme is – innovation – which is no surprise.

This got me to think about how this term has fluctuated since I heard it twenty years ago. My approach to the topic was around several attributes:

• Wicked Problems
• A Focus on Customers
• Users Finding Alternatives
• Ideation and Prototyping
• Qualitative Performance

The question is how is design thinking different from other types of thinking? If we take a Western European approach to thought, then we have critical thinking models of observe, ask questions, research, make connections and create a model that integrates new insights.

If you agree with this foundation, then there would be little differentiation between design thinking and other forms of thinking. Can non-designers do design thinking? What is the role of the designer if design thinking is practiced by a wide variety of disciplines and professions?

What has remained constant about design thinking is linked to an improved future. Victor Margolin, in his book The Politics of the Artificial stated Design is continuously inventing its subject matter, so it is not limited by outworn categories of products. The world expects new things from designers, that is the nature of design.

I used to have conversations with fairly progressive designers twenty years ago about design thinking and that design was as much about frameworks, strategies and approaches as about media artifacts. At the time, they were not ready to embrace this idea and only wanted cursory approaches that could add more legitimacy to the making. Contemporary designers have finally embraced in enough of a critical mass that design is as much about thinking as making.

Even a few years ago when John Thackara (www.thackara.com/) proposed for the London Design Council an the Project Red Initiative that would have the design community address specific social, political and economic issues facing the United Kingdom. The backlash from the design community that the initiative was not in the bounds of design.

The good news is that design thinking, design methods, and design management are all coalescing to create new opportunities for designers to collaborate effectively with other professions around wider areas of interest that are not discipline specific.

Designers have an ability to interact with the the unknown, and the shifting relationships between the meaning of things. The design objects program is trying to link design (as a plan) to objects (as an outcome).  It is here that methodology can help and this is where design thinking comes into play.

Maybe there is hope after all.

Surfacing the Issues : An Interview with Itu Chaudhuri

It was a Sunday night, New Delhi time when Itu and I had a Skype video call while he was slowly sipping a cognac.

While it had been awhile some time since we last communicated, we both had the ability to pick up where we last talked like it was yesterday.We first met in 1990 while I was on a Fulbright to India and believe a host at a social event introduced us. From my memory, what drew me to Itu was his thoughtful intensity, ambition and he seemed like a perfect person to have at a dinner party to introduce delightful polemical conversation.

This is no accident. His father is the late Sankho Chaudhuri and his mother, Ira Chaudhuri, a still practicing potter.India in the 1990′s had a small club of graphic designers that all seemed to know one another and we spent many hours at small events with other designers talking about contemporary issues. Itu represents the best of intelligent graphic design. His many years of immersion in typography and communications systems has transformed him into a very articulate practitioner of design in the widest possible sense.

While Itu has mellowed slightly, it is not due to exhaustion, but rather built up experience that allows him to know his roots and build a more sophisticated model of shaping design as a process of discovery that creates meaningful frameworks for specific actions. His firm ICD with his long- time collaborator Lisa Rath is growing and developing a planning offering. This again is no accident and Itu is methodically creating the foundation by bringing on new skills and ways to connect design to larger business and societal issues. The interview meanders between graphic design, systems design and into planning. We surfaced many things that point to a new type of value creation for clients in the sub-continent.

Losing a SmartPhone, but gaining trust in the Cloud

We never really think about losing our smart phone because it is never supposed to happen to us. It seems as if we only have a 5% chance of losing a phone based on most statistics.

I was walking to the train the other day and had my phone on a belt case. As the train approached, I went for my phone and it was gone. At that point my mind experienced a type of parallax effect, where a level of disorientation overtook me.

I decided to retrace my steps back to my home. Part of me was looking at the ground and part of me was mulling over the options of how to best proceed if I could not find my phone. As I approached my home, I kept thinking, “oh, it must be on the steps.” When none of these magical thoughts converted into reality, I decided to act.

I logged into my iCloud account and went into Find my iPhone. It pinged my phone and saw the geolocator find it traveling on a highway away from my home. It prompted me to send a text to the phone which I asked for the person to call my home number for a reward. I then called AT&T to cancel the phone. While I felt great that I could track the phone, it also highlighted the helplessness that nothing could be done about it.

After a few hours, I decided to do a remote wipe of the phone, which worked perfectly. Not having a phone highlighted my dependence on the many applications that I use every day. This heightened my situational awareness as I tried to project on a future using existing information that I did not have.
I walked to a local AT&T store and purchased a replacement phone. After logging into iCloud, all of my contacts, calendars, mail settings and bookmarks appeared within one minute. Walking out of the store, I was able to immediately interact with my data and become productive. When I hooked up my phone to my laptop and synchronized with iTunes, all of my applications were clustered into groups, alarms and third party mail settings configured. Within eight hours my phone was back to the way it was with very little effort.

What this whole empirical experience demonstrated was the credibility of iCloud and that having an integrated digital platform developed by Apple actually exceeded expectations. It reduced my iPhone to a hardware platform that can be replaced (an expensive platform) and that my data and all my customized settings were saved in the cloud and made my new phone my old phone (except now I have a 4S with 4G data transfer).

Maybe we are actually progressing on cloud based storage and retrieval.

Reducing Friction : An Interview with Mark Dziersk of LUNAR

Mark Dziersk is a designer on a mission, to discuss how emotion, feelings, behavior and forms of products interact with one another and create genuine experiences. I first met Mark at Herbst, Lazar, Bell and we have kept in touch over the years discussing a range of issues, especially around thought leadership of different design disciplines. He is now Managing Director of LUNAR in Chicago.

Mark is genuine and accessible and has found ways to keep his child-like curiosity in the face of many years of professional experience dealing with companies who want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. While I am sure there is a pragmatic dimension to Mark, my belief is that he feels that those bases are covered by others and his role is to ask why, and did you consider.

He mentioned that the role of a designer is to reduce friction between user and product by using creativity and emotional engagement as a gateway to functionality. This is a compelling approach and reflects Marks many experiences with consumer based products in a world of choice.

He traffics in ideas and operationalizes them through engaging clients by being a proxy for the market. This is a life well spent.

Entertainment Gathering 6 : A Relaxed Version of TED

Recently Elizabeth and I spent two days at a telecast of the EG6 (Entertainment Gathering): Rebooting Tomorrow conference broadcast from Monterey, CA to Chicago, IL. The event is the brainchild of concert pianist and MIT Media Lab fellow Michael Hawley. Previously unaware of either the event or Hawley, we had no preconceived ideas of what the experience would be like.

We were a little unnerved that there were so few attendees and that half of them seemed to be Field employees who were encouraged to attend (seeing as they disappeared in droves when the lights went down). We became increasing more so when it became apparent that this was going to be a truly eclectic and interesting experience. Both avid conference attendees — as budgets allow — we are usually disappointed in the local fare. Chicago seems to slower to embrace or grasp crowd sourcing of information and the idea of conferences as the new concert, book club, coffee house, etc. The notable exception to that being Chicago Ideas Week.

Rather than boil this down to the essence, to prove my point we are instead giving in-depth descriptions of some of the speakers. Some presenters were less effective because their egos and personalities focused more on their own accomplishments with little empathy about packaging their experience in a way that would be valuable to others. Other presenters were wonderful at packaging their ideas and connecting with participants. Large segments of the California conference were not shown. Elizabeth was a bit bugged that the simulcast didn’t include Neil Stephenson’s segment, but we are both glad it happened at all. Overall, should this event happen be held again next year, we suggest you check it out.

Manufactured Reality : The New Reality?

Tupac Shakur came back from the dead for the first Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival to the joy and amazement of the festival-goers – and the wider public by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

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This digital resurrection was actually brought to festival-goers by sophisticated CGI and projection technology of the Digital Domain Media Group. The intent of bringing back Tupac seemed to be driven by many motivations : to use the brand equity of an extreme rap figure, to set a certain tone and association for the festival, and to provide an amazing spectacle that would generate buzz and value to the endeavor.

The media’s reaction intensified the meaning of the event, by asking is this ethical on one hand to how did they do that? on the other. Public events and controversy is nothing new. When we go to an event, there is what we think we will experience and what actually happens. Think about the game show investigations in the 1950s that highlighted contestants being fed answers. Think about in more recent times when milli-vanilli were caught lip syncing on stage at their concerts and their 1990 Grammy was taken back. Events are a type of contract : ticket holders expect an authentic event, and when this authenticity is put in question, then the contract is broken.

In the case of the Tupac resurrection, this was a surprise and delighted ticket holders. Inadvertently, this act raised serious questions of authenticity, use of manufactured celebrity, and what defines reality. In a culture being more and more defined by media and mediums, society is facing sincere questions of authenticity and reality when the medium becomes the driving force for engagement.

Already, Snoop and Dre are reportedly thinking about taking the Tupac hologram out on tour. James Montgomery from the Digital Domain Media Group weighed in by saying Once this becomes a little less cost prohibitive, given the wild popularity of deceased stars like Elvis or Michael Jackson, I can see Las Vegas shelling out a lot of money to have these sort of ‘live reviews.’ This means that any historical documentation of dead celebrities can be repurposed to create a seamless experience for contemporary consumption.

Simon Coronel, a magician discussed the art of deception through illusion and the power it has in affecting the mind to both struggle and be pleased with experiencing the impossible. The combination of sleight of hand through dexterity & misdirection by using distraction for critical moments create the impossible. No matter how perceptive you are, you still fall for the illusion in front of you.

In the case of Tupac, the sleight of hand was the use of holographic technology and the distraction was the seamless speech Tupac gave inserting the name of the festival and talking directly to Snoop and Dr. Dre. Everyone knew this was impossible, but bought into the experience.

With the Tupac resurrection, will media personalities have to put in their wills that their moving images cannot be manufactured – or have to be done with the approval of the estate? For example, Fred Astaire’s movie clips were repurposed to seamlessly integrate a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. His widow, Robyn Astaire, the guardian of her husband’s image licensed Astaire’s image for Dirt Devil and defended herself, saying she was doing only what Fred would have wanted. I’ve had to deplete much of my financial security over the years to prosecute infringers she has said. I just feel Fred would have wanted me to do these commercials.

But what about for live events? It is not deceptive advertising to publicize a concert with Johnny Cash, as everyone knows he is dead. As long as the estate sanctions it, these events will not be breaking the law. However, if James Montgomery is right and the technology to reanimate dead celebrities becomes commoditized, then what will be the meaning and value of these manufactured realities?

Society today is much more accepting of manufactured reality because for the very reason that the amount of media we are consuming on a daily basis is already manufactured to varying degrees. From people pretending to be something they are not, to using digital aviators as equivalents to themselves, to images being photo manipulated and presented as authentic, to reality TV which is continually remanufactured depending on the response from the audience. These trends are redefining the ingredients and definitions of reality.

Interestingly, the craving for authentic is on the rise – possibly out of a reaction to these trends. Many are using the term authentic to imply trustworthy, real, genuine – not processed. There are parallels to food and food production where certain markets want to have food as unaltered as possible. When characters on Star Trek use the holideck to go to places they crave for, this synthetic reality is a way to use character’s experience as a time of reflection, or to provide them with experiences they never could draw from. Maybe in the future there will be two tiers of transaction for the public. Authentic experiences that have not been processed, and manufactured experiences that have been art directed and are synthetic.

Bette Davis, had it right when in the movie All About Eve, Margo Channing said “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

 

A Question of Identity : An Interview with Tom Suiter

Tom Suiter is a unique individual – a devoted father, highly curious, a collaborator and a talented designer and leader. He is able to bridge business issues and different types of strategies to inform powerful and immersive brand experiences. This all happens through a very accessible interpersonal style.

We met in San Francisco when I was leading the user experience group for the Chicago office of USWeb/CKS and he was Chief Creative Officer. Tom asked me to work directly for him auditing and evaluating the creative capabilities of the company nationally. My memories of working for Tom was that he was a thoughtful listener, communicated clearly and had his priorities in order – to find the best people to do the best work. This has been a continual theme throughout his career.

The evolution of Tom is one of learning the craft of design and then enhancing these skills by wanting to expand corporate identity into wider spheres of influence into what Peter Behrens referred to as a total imagistic panorama where integration at all levels create experiences that are both powerful and relevant. His design response in many different industries has allowed him to concentrate essential core values of brand, brand articulation and brand management – but without all the stifling quantitative language that gets in the way.

Professionals that can lead, shape and implement branded experiences are few, and the number of people that Tom has identified, mentored and collaborated with is a powerful marker to the level of creative excellence that any company would want to strive for. As Steve Jobs once said to Tom – It’s Perfect.

Two Views on Reading’s Future

I recently attended two lectures on the future of the book. This topic is close to me for two reasons : first I am an active reader and collector of books and second my original background in design was in book publishing. There is over 500 years of history of the codex using movable type and over 2000 years for the book, which was developed in ancient Rome. There is so much pattern, established behavior and supply chains, that the printed book is still an archetype for a carrier of knowledge.

Anthony Grafton from Princeton gave a lecture during the Chicago Humanities Festival. He views books not just as a holder of texts, but as objects with a rich materiality. He credits books with creating trading zones through cafe culture that brought people together to discuss what books contained and expanded knowledge. He also commented on the role of libraries as serving a similar function and the challenges to the meaning and use of contemporary libraries. Take for example the new plan for the New York Public Library where they will move many books to a warehouse in New Jersey and place more computers and meeting spaces in the main library building.

Grafton’s view on the current trend to digitalization of information and new printing technologies has created new niches for the book. For example, the Espresso Book Machine, which is a print-on-demand machine can publish out of print books printed and bound in about 20 minutes. Now with new ways to write, edit, print and distribute books, authors can self-publish and create markets based on their reputation without the need for a publisher.

Grafton ended up discussing the role of reading, and reading habits. There are different types of reading – for research, for quiet time, or for information and scanning. The dynamics of reading from Grafton’s perspective can be served by physical books, ebooks and screens. He does not subscribe to the view that the book is dying, but has observed that the quality of writing and curatorial dimensions to content development is uneven.

In another lecture I attended about the rise of e-readers by Nicholas Carr at the Newberry Library, Carr’s thesis was diametrically opposed to Graftons. He has published books such as The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr is concerned about the degradation of the act of reading defined over 500 years of book use, and the introduction of new interactive features and functions of multi-use tablet computers like the Amazon Fire.

Carr believes that e-readers are destroying the act and meaning of reading. 2000 years of stability is being violently disrupted by e-readers and that since the Kindle was released five years ago, now 20% of all book purchases are e-books. He discussed how e-books are emulating the physical book as every new medium imitates the old medium it is replacing.

Carr’s thesis is that the intellectual dimensions of knowledge is radically being changed and that our ethic of reading is being degraded and quickly affecting our brains. He feels the printed book is a shield against distraction and allows us to be in quiet for a deeper type of reflection due to the printed book’s main role – which is the intimate printed page as a sensory experience.
The structure and dissemination of information is always in flux and the dynamics of how this information is consumed is also in flux.

Printed books have been stable from a production standpoint, but their distribution and availability have been continually changing. We have a Kindle and there was a learning curve to use this platform. Having an integrated dictionary is most helpful to understand words as you read the text; having multi-font capability; having an ability to annotate particular passages is also convenient. Being able to read a book on a smart phone/tablet and a dedicated e-reader – all synchronized with one another is also convenient. Yet, when we want we turn off the wireless and can just read the book as a book.

Reflecting on the two lectures, I did not find Nicholas Carr’s thesis mature or a compelling argument against the rise of digital books. His arguments were grounded in fear and a thin polemic. Yes e-readers are changing the meaning of reading and how content is structured and delivered to people who read. Yes, content is moving from static written words, to hyperlinks, images, sound and video as a more immersive experience.

Grafton’s thesis in contrast is a much more mature and reasonable position that values the history and meaning of books and reading, but also recognizes the shift to digital content as not a threat, but as a progression of the structure and dissemination of content. He believes that reading in all forms is the most important thing we can do and leaves the either-or thesis that Carr seems to embrace behind.