I live in a small enough town that I remember being one of the first people around to own an ipod. True story. One of those big old white ones with the scroll wheel on it. Lots of kids at school asked me about it, but my celebrity was pretty short lives as in only a few weeks they started showing up all over.
I remember getting it and wondering what I was going to fill it up with. Then I discovered Adam Curry and RSS and the podcasts started flowing in. A whole new world. The fact that ipods were being very quickly adopted made podcasting come alive. A new way to participate in the media landscape was being born. Even though podcasting already seems to be slowly dying off, at the time when it first became mainstream, it had the potential to change who was able to produce media and how we consumed it.
I’m wondering now about tablets and literacy. Are they a device that changes things for written text like the combination of ipods and RSS do for audio? (I know I’ve been beating on this drum lately and I apologize if you are sick of it already, but I need to spend some time thinking through these issues. And hey, I pay the bills around here….. so…… )
Written text has been the same as long as it has existed. Certainly it has moved through different forms of appearance (scroll, letter, folio, novel, etc) But it has always been the same. Produced by one or more individuals and consumed by a single person at a time. Even the advance of dedicated ereaders didn’t change this fact. Text was text.
But what happens when we use an app (Kobo, Kindle, etc) to interact with written text on a screen? Does the act of reading become fundamentally different? A written text of this type becomes the centre of an information ecosystem instead of a stand alone artifact. Depending on the app that you are using it may allow you to highlight certain text and make notes on your device. It allows you to highlight something and easily share it with others via email, twitter or facebook. It allows you to pursue links that might be embedded directly in the text, instantly track down references from endnotes, search for further information on the same topic, get words defined and segue off onto tangental lines of thinking. You can find and download other books on the same topic or written by the same author. While others may argue that we could do all of those things before the combination of apps, tablet and internet combination came along, the ease and ability to complete these tasks all without leaving your couch makes me wonder if this is something different.
Which brings me to Marshall McLuhan.
“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Understanding Media, 1964
Podcasting quickly grew into something different after Apple decided it would have a section of iTunes dedicated to these productions. It quickly lost its indie feel when corporations began to produce their own full programs complete with sponsorship and commercials.
What happens now that tablets and internet connections and apps like Kobo and Kindle become widespread? Does the act of reading become different for those with the money to afford the technology? Do those without the technology, who cannot forge the instant international connections and community around a given text read with an “accent?” Are people reading paper books missing out on all of the possibilities that reading any given text might be? Similar to what happens with any software project, I wonder if our reading skills are being forked?
We’ve built these tools, but now they are shaping our habits, what we do with them, and how we interact with the media we produce and consume. Are software developers and corporations defining what it means to be literate?
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ginatrapani/3553961037/