September 29, 2017
Reading online does not a new book format make
by Alex Primiani
What’s in a book? Typically it’s an idea, or a story an author is trying to convey. Sure, readers nowadays can pick up books at stores or online, but it’s still “a book” if it adheres to that kind of definition, virtually or otherwise. Even with so lax a definition, though, there are still people trying to disrupt reading by simply calling things what they aren’t. Now, a New York-based company has plans to bring “browser based e-books” to a Google Chrome near you.
At least that’s what Katharine Schwab is reporting at Fast Company. “Reading in your browser… has retained little of the charm of reading a book, digital or real.” Enter HAWRAF, a “new design studio” that brings clients’ virtual book dreams to reality. Their inaugural project is Taeyoon Choi’s Poetic Computation Reader, a collection of lectures on art and technology initially delivered at Choi’s School for Poetic Computation.
Schwab describes the experience of encountering Choi’s text in the reader:
When you click on the footnotes, located in tiny typography to the right of the main text, they overtake the main text so you can get a closer look. Meanwhile, anything you highlight can be exported as a PDF, letting you turn the most relevant parts of the book into a printable file. A “focus mode” blacks out most of the browser, keeping your wandering eyes from getting distracted. It’s the best aspects of reading online, combined with those of an actual book.
OK, so this doesn’t sound like reading nearly so much as research… like when someone in the real world reads a book, highlights it, reads the footnotes, and learns to focus.
Schwab continues: “How many more articles would you be able to get through if you could black out all your browser’s distractions?” This, of course, assumes that what keeps people from finishing articles is their wandering eye and not their wandering mind. It also assumes humanity’s goal in every aspect of life (and not just work) is to be as efficient as possible.
Far more interesting are Choi’s own words on his intention with the Poetic Computation Reader, a project intended solely for online use; he hoped this new kind of presentation might lead to new forms of functionality.
“There’s a sense of joy in carrying a book and turning the pages. The information is always attached to the form,” Choi says. “I wanted to explore what the book online is going to be. What is the new experience and joy that browsers could afford, given the chance to?”
To end the article, Schwab writes, “It’s proof that even in 2017, books can find a new form.” But Choi’s words ring slightly truer regarding the nature of the project, and the autonomy a reader can have while reading in this format: “I think it’s really empowering for the reader to be able to have that decision.”
Alex Primiani is senior publicist at Melville House.