A Book by Any Other Name is…

In my experience, digital editions of novels are often discouraged from use in the academic sphere. I believe this is due to the stigma of digital versions and the ability to trust their sourcing and completeness. Anything can be put online, and even the examples on the class blog show no digital edition is created equal.

Aesthetically and emotionally speaking, turning the pages in a print edition is my preferred method. I never feel the same excitement when the Kindle app displays “98% Read” in the right hand corner, than when I realize I have one chapter left in my physical book. But in college (to keep down costs) and in my professional life (carrying books on the metro was a hassle) I used digital editions of literature. When I switched I thought my engagement would change due to the lack of an emotional response, but instead I found my engagement increased.

Digital editions bring together the written and studied word, and instant gratification. If I don’t know the definition of a word, I can tap it and the Webster definition pops up. If a phrase or excerpt intrigues me, I can highlight and google that exact spot and find secondary sources with in-depth analyses. However, not all editions, print, digital, or otherwise are the same.

Take, for example, the Project Gutenberg (PG) edition of Frankenstein. It is one webpage with hyperlinks to various chapters, but is barebones. There are no annotations, footnotes, or any original publishing information. There is no preface or quote from Paradise Lost, and the book is not divided into three volumes. There are benefits to the simplicity as it is free, wifi is only needed once, and the document is searchable (which, when PG was created was the goal). Now compare this edition to the University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) edition. In UPenn’s edition there are biographies for notable allusions, annotations, maps, critical commentaries, and much more. It is a hub of information that has set up the novel exactly as it was in print, three volumes, correct chapter numbers, and the pages are set up to mimic the original text. It is amazing, but requires consistent wifi, is exasperating and time-consuming to read as each page has to load, and the annotations, while helpful, are not as intuitive as they could be, as they are on separate webpages that draw the reader from the content.

Digital editions are a necessity for the future of the study of humanities as they offer universal access, instant information, and searchable documents; but they need to be streamlined, de-stigmatized, and created from trusted sources with accurate annotations. Print copies, while tactile and emotionally connective, require the reader access to other facilities, whether that be other works, libraries, or the internet, all of which costs money and time. On the flip side, print copies ensure that readers learn how to research accurate and trustworthy sources, whereas digital editions may be too much information, too easily.

Personally, I hope print books never die out, but academically, I feel digital editions, if created well, are more inclusive and conducive for learning. (520)


Image grabbed from Scientific American and Getty Images.

 

Original Post

7 thoughts on “A Book by Any Other Name is…

  1. I agree – there is a “clunkiness” to some of the digital editions, but I imagine that as DH further ingrains itself into academics, online editions will be designed to be more user-friendly and intuitive.

    I disagree that there is a stigma surrounding digital editions. The push for more technology in the classroom has never been stronger, and I would not be surprised if K-12 schools began to switch over entirely to digital texts as a cost-saving measure (since many are already providing their students with laptops or tablets).

    It’s interesting that your engagement increased when switching from print to digital medium, as the opposite is much more typical; Amy addresses this point further in her post and links to a study.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I read Amy’s study and I agreed with some of the research as skimming can become an issue when reading on a computer, but on a tablet, kindle, or smartphone I still find myself more engaged because the information I may need is right there.

      I didn’t realize in K-12 schools that digital editions were being used. I should have specified, in college I was given a lot of flack for my use of digital editions, in fact one professor went so far as to tell me I had not bought the required texts and nearly dropped me a letter grade for “lack of ‘proper’ participation” all because I was reading a free PDF of The Sun Also Rises. So to reiterate, in my experience there still is a stigma.

    2. I do agree with you in the sense that at the beginning you mentioned that digital books are not necessarily a trusted source of reading. I have encountered several instances where I would search up a book but then find that it is very different from the original book, or that this edition could end up just being a secondary source of the book, so it is sometimes nerve-wrecking for me to choose a digital book over a physical book, since with a physical book I am positive and sure that I am reading the right material and that the source is trusted. I usually encountered these issues with journals for research projects, I would find that the online journal would be incomplete which is why sometimes I prefer a physical copy over the digital copy.
      I also do agree with the comment above stating that schools are pushing for more use of technology in classes so of course, this will make funding for books cost much less. I think that because today many schools and classrooms promote the use of technology, this encourages more people to continue their education since digital books are cheaper and this will help them with financial concerns that come with completing your education and obtaining your degree.

    3. I’m wondering if the stigma of digital texts has to do with the format? For example, is there a difference in a Kindle edition of Frankenstein that one has to purchase (published by say Norton or Penguin) -vs- a free, online version? Do you think that by having the publisher behind it, that somehow makes the text more “authentic” and/or “legitimate”? To be honest, I hadn’t thought of that issue before in terms of PG or UPenn as my digital reading has been limited to either Kindle books or downloaded books from the public library. That being said, I also agree with Alec’s point that more than ever, schools are pushing towards digital texts to save money. In fact, there is a huge initiative in the VCCS (Virginia Community College System) system to move to open-access texts for students. As educators, I think that it behooves us to make texts as available and accessible to students as possible. However, ensuring that the texts are trustworthy will be an ongoing challenge…

  2. To build on the progress bar of the Kindle, I feel that way with the physical book at times. I have this strange habit (and perhaps, you will agree other students do the same) of checking how many pages I have left by flipping through and counting. In fact, sometimes I think I spend more time doing that than actually interacting with the text (if it isn’t something I am particularly excited to read). Academically, I can’t help but agree that Project Gutenberg as well as other databases allow for this ability to retain more information at an efficient pace. Though, I feel then that students may get lazy and rely on whatever sources Project Gutenberg provides for a concept, rather than delving deeper and doing more independent research.

  3. I’ll agree that digital text can and will be a necessity as technology progresses and thus require us to be more attentive, open-minded, and adapt as certain capabilities will benefit researchers as result; it would also save natural resources using paper-less devices. I also agree that certain pieces of information (such as annotations) may or may not be needed depending on the research.
    I will say, however, that printed text may inspire more critical thinking as well as concentration as digital text can often impose multitasking (distraction) through the usage of Internet. I also feel that digital texts are inconsistent as they are always followed by further updates and revisions either towards the material or website. In contrast, I feel that printed text can be valued as a constant source of the original material, a necessity to have in order to retain the knowledge through the ages.

  4. I’m wondering if the stigma of digital texts has to do with the format? For example, is there a difference in a Kindle edition of Frankenstein that one has to purchase (published by say Norton or Penguin) -vs- a free, online version? Do you think that by having the publisher behind it, that somehow makes the text more “authentic” and/or “legitimate”? To be honest, I hadn’t thought of that issue before in terms of PG or UPenn as my digital reading has been limited to either Kindle books or downloaded books from the public library. That being said, I also agree with Alec’s point that more than ever, schools are pushing towards digital texts to save money. In fact, there is a huge initiative in the VCCS (Virginia Community College System) system to move to open-access texts for students. As educators, I think that it behooves us to make texts as available and accessible to students as possible. However, ensuring that the texts are trustworthy will be an ongoing challenge…

Leave a Reply to Ally Freeland Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *