Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Imitating material books in electronic formats
A thoughtful and lengthy paper, The Use and Abuse of Reusable Learning Objects, by Pithamber R. Polsani includes some insightful observations about carrying the trappings of physical books into the electronic realm:
"The concept of book begins to unravel once it is transferred from the mechanical domain to the field of information technology. An e-book is potentially a limitless interconnected textual grouping whose beginnings and ends cannot be determined. Similarly, the navigational aids that facilitate readings are not conditioned by physical contiguity and spatial relations, but by logical connections and database access. For example, the electronic text is not organized as folios and pages that a reader turns as he or she progresses, but like volumen (a papyrus roll) through which one scrolls. These differences require new forms of approaching, reading and treating written texts."
"The experience of book is not simply exhausted in the visual representation of text it presents us. Book as a three-dimensional object offers us a plurality of sensual experiences. Our body can feel its texture, we can hold it between one or two hands, it can sit in a lap, the pages can be turned and folded, it can be carried or kept on a shelf. The tactile sensation of a book and its capacity to engage our whole body and mind while interacting with it is what binds us to it so closely. The e-book essentially belongs to a single domain: the visual. Recent experiments in presenting e-books like material books is an attempt to recreate, through a hierarchical organization of visual content, the tactile experience of a book. The e-book as a visual mode of presentation, however rich it may be, is limited since it does not offer the same sensual experience as the material book. As a result all attempts to simulate material books will yield at best partial results."
"The recent reversal in the fortunes of e-book manufacturers seems to suggest that the e-book is doomed to failure from the beginning because of a radical divergence between the book and e-book as objects and on the conceptual and metaphorical levels. However, I believe this fundamental differentiation with the book should become the foundation for building the e-book. Such an effort should start by abandoning all attempts to imitate the material book in electronic format and instead concentrate on generating new and different experiences for the reader."