The digital article as analogue book: no comment

Brooker's 'The Hell of it All' - 'a genius of spleen'

I love the writing of Charlie Brooker; you may do too, he’s very popular (and if you’ve not read him, he writes here). I think the ‘genius of spleen’ quote, published on the front cover, captures him well, at least for the collection I’m currently reading ‘The Hell of it All’. I’ve bought all of Brooker’s books and I like them. I’ve read most of the articles already on the web but they stand reading again.

But I’m not sure a book (or ‘analogue’, the paper form, to be more precise) is the right format anymore. I felt something was missing when I’ve been reading the latest collection – and that something was the comments and being ‘connected’. Sure, some of them are terrible (there’s still a band of chumps who type ‘First!!!!’ when they’re first to comment) and add little to the article. More, ‘reading below the line’ is notoriously unrewarding for some articles or posts, especially when trolls arrive. But there are is often some genuinely funny and thoughtful stuff, too, well-written and carefully composed little nuggets of wisdom and fun that add to article rather than dilute it. Sometimes the author contributes to the discussion (although not Brooker, to my knowledge). What’s more, the comments often contain links and without them, without the article being connected, it’s harder to enjoy now.

I’m not saying anything particularly new here – the analogue version doesn’t work when derived from the digital. That said, I think the conversion the other way around would work fine but I’ve yet to see it done. Further, it’s not the articles I’m critical of – as I’ve said, I enjoy them equally in book form. It’s just Brooker’s one of those writers who probes, jousts, pokes, encourages – you’ll have an opinion about him, and you’ll want to read what others think, too, on the whole, and perhaps share your own view.

I don’t blame Brooker or anyone else come to that for publishing their work in an analogue form. Indeed, Brooker goes further than most in adding some bits that were cut from the online edition and rearranges them thoughtfully. But now that we’re reading on iPads and other tablets, where we can read the article archive online easily and portably, there’s just little to recommend the analogue over the digital collection of online articles or blog posts.

Barely-related coda

It also occurred to me that when reading digital works, it’s impossible to quote a page number, since people read with the font set at different sizes and therefore the ebook is paginated differently. Is this the end of the use of page references?

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2 thoughts on “The digital article as analogue book: no comment

  1. Yes, the page number thing has been noted before as an issue with ebooks. I’m not so worried – if you have a quote of any length, you can simply search to find it. Which is probably a faster process than looking up a reference by physical page number.

    • Thanks Doug. Searching for text as a replacement for page number referencing, yes – adds fuel to the fire of those who believe the need for conventional academic references is unnecessary, at least in its current format. As a former editor who has been troubled by long, incomplete bibliographies, I would quite agree.

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