And annotation helps you save those thoughts, share them with others, and further refine them.
(There should be a discount code KISLAKCTR21-FM to get 40% off & free shipping as part of the Schoenberg Symposium for the next few days Nov. 17-19, 2021)
If you hate them, it’s not your fault.
A🧵 of annotations
What any individual infers about their hopes and dreams for an e-reader derives from their understanding of reading in the first place. You can’t have books without bookiness. Bookiness. That’s the word Glenn Fleishman, a technology writer and longtime bookmaker, uses to describe the situation. “It’s the essence that makes someone feel like they’re using a book,” he told me. Like pornography or sandwiches, you know bookiness when you see it. Or feel it? Either way, most people can’t identify what it is in the abstract. ❧
Does this only come out because there’s something that’s book-tangential or similar and it needs to exist to describe the idea of not-book, book-adjacent, or book-like on some sort of spectrum of bookishness.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:28PM
The ancient Romans sometimes connected wax tablets with leather or cords, suggesting a prototype of binding. Replacing the wax with leaves allowed many pages to be stacked atop one another, then sewn or otherwise bound together. ❧
early book prototypes
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:30PM
In other words, as far as technologies go, the book endures for very good reason. Books work. ❧
Aside from reading words to put ideas into my brain, one of the reasons I like to read digital words is that the bigger value proposition for me is an easier method to add annotations to what I’m reading and then to be able to manipulate those notes after-the-fact. I’ve transcended books and the manual methods of note taking. Until I come up with a better word for it, digital commonplacing seems to be a useful shorthand for this new pattern of reading.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:33PM
If you have a high-quality hardbound book nearby, pick it up and look at the top and bottom edges of the binding, near the spine, with the book closed. The little stripey tubes you see are called head and tail bands (one at the top, one at the bottom). They were originally invented to reinforce stitched binding, to prevent the cover from coming apart from the leaves. Today’s mass-produced hardcover books are glued rather than sewn, which makes head and tail bands purely ornamental. And yet for those who might notice, a book feels naked without such details. ❧
It is an odd circumstance that tail bands are still used on modern books that don’t need them. From a manufacturing standpoint, the decrease in cost would dictate they disappear, however they must add some level of bookiness that they’re worth that cost.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:37PM
One site of that erosion, which may help explain ebook reticence, can be found in self-published books. For people predisposed to sneer at the practice, a lack of editing or the absence of publisher endorsement and review might justify self-published works’ second-class status. That matter is debatable. More clear is the consequence of disintermediation: Nobody takes a self-published manuscript and lays it out for printing in a manner that conforms with received standards. And so you often end up with a perfect-bound Word doc instead of a book. That odd feeling of impropriety isn’t necessarily a statement about the trustworthiness of the writer or their ideas, but a sense of dissonance at the book as an object. It’s an eerie gestalt, a foreboding feeling of unbookiness. ❧
Having helped others to self-publish in the past, I definitely do spend a bit of time putting the small sort of bookiness flourishes into their texts.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:41PM
The weird way you tap or push a whole image of a page to the side—it’s the uncanny valley of page turning, not a simulation or replacement of it. ❧
This may be the first time I’ve seen uncanny valley applied to a topic other than recognizing people versus robots or related simulacra.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:44PM
The iPad’s larger screen also scales down PDF pages to fit, making the results smaller than they would be in print. It also displays simulated print margins inside the bezel margin of the device itself, a kind of mise en abyme that still can’t actually be used for the things margins are used for, such as notes or dog-ears. ❧
It would be quite nice if a digital reader would allow actual writing in the margins, or even overlaying the text itself and then allowing the looking at the two separately.
I do quite like the infinite annotation space that Hypothes.is gives me on a laptop. I wish there were UI for it on a Kindle in a more usable and forgiving way. The digital keyboard on Kindle Paperwhite is miserable. I’ve noticed that I generally prefer reading and annotating on desktop in a browser now for general ease-of-use.
Also, I don’t see enough use of mise en abyme. This is a good one.
In Western art history, mise en abyme (French pronunciation: [miz ɑ̃n‿abim]; also mise en abîme) is a formal technique of placing a copy of an image within itself, often in a way that suggests an infinitely recurring sequence. In film theory and literary theory, it refers to the technique of inserting a story within a story. The term is derived from heraldry and literally means “placed into abyss”. It was first appropriated for modern criticism by the French author André Gide.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:49PM
Ebook devices are extremely compatible with an idea of bookiness that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces. ❧
Intriguing reference of a book as a memory palace here.
The verso/recto and top/middle/bottom is a piece of digital books that I do miss from the physical versions as it serves as a mnemonic journey for me to be able to remember what was where.
I wonder if Ian Bogost uses the method of loci?
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:53PM
So do all manner of other peculiarities of form, including notations of editions on the verso (the flip side) of the full title page and the running headers all throughout that rename the book you are already reading. ❧
I do dislike the running headers of digital copies of books as most annotation tools want to capture those headers in the annotation. It would be nice if they were marked up in an Aria-like method so that annotation software would semantically know to ignore them.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:56PM
Skimming through pages, the foremost feature of the codex, remains impossible in digital books. ❧
This is related to an idea that Tom Critchlow was trying to get at a bit the other day. It would definitely be interesting in this sort of setting.
(Why yes I am procrastinating my to-do list. You?)
— Tom Critchlow (@tomcritchlow) September 17, 2021
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 01:03PM
“We’ve been thoughtful,” Amazon continued, “about adding only features and experiences that preserve and enhance the reading experience.” The question of whose experience doesn’t seem to come up. ❧
They’re definitely not catering to my reading, annotating, and writing experience.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 01:04PM
This week I was able to catch up a bit on some podcasts I subscribe to. One of the casts I’ve been enjoying lately is 25 Years of Ed Tech, a serialized version of Martin Weller’s book by the same title. Now audio books are plenty good by themselves, but this particular podcast has an addition episode per chapter called “between the chapters” where a host interviews members of the ed tech community (those around Martin in some way) about the topic of the previous chapter. This week was all about blogs.
He mentions Stephen Downes‘ regular workflow as well. I think mine is fairly similar to Stephen’s. To some extent, I write much more on my own website now than I ever had before. This is because I post a lot more frequently to my own site, in part because it’s just so easy to do. I’ll bookmark things or post about what I’ve recently read or watched. My short commentary on some of these is just that—short commentary. But occasionally I discover, depending on the subject, that those short notes and bookmark posts will spring into something bigger or larger. Sometimes it’s a handful of small posts over a few days or weeks that ultimately inspires the longer thing. The key seems to be to write something.
Perhaps a snowball analogy will work? I take a tiny snowball of words and give it a proverbial roll. Sometimes it sits there and other times it rolls down the hill and turns into a much larger snowball. Other times I get a group of them and build a full snowman.
It’s just this sort of workflow that I was considering when I recently suggested that those using annotation as a classroom social annotation tool, might also consider using it to help students create commonplace books to help students spur their writing. The key is to create small/low initial stakes that have the potential to build up into something bigger. Something akin to the user interface of Twitter (and their tweetstorm functionality). Write a short sentence or two on which you can hit publish, but if the mood strikes, then write another, and another until you’ve eventually gotten to something that could be a blog post (or article). Of course if you do this, you should own it.
This is also the sort of perspective which Sönke Ahrens takes in his excellent book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers, though there he’s prescribing something for general note taking when I might suggest it’s a prescription for a pedagogy behind living and writing.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one of the most important tools of a reader or writer was a commonplace book (CPB). Peter Beal, leading expert on English manuscript studies, defines a commonplace book as “a manuscript book in which quotations or passages from reading matter, precepts, proverbs and aphorisms, useful rhetorical figures or exemplary phrasing, words and ideas, or other notes and memoranda are entered for ready reference under general subject headings.” Your sources can include, first and foremost, the assigned readings and supplementary materials, as well as any other useful texts you come across. I encourage you to supplement CPB entries with extra-curricular material: quotations from readings for other classes, lyrics from songs, lines from movies, tweets with relevant hashtags, an occasional quotation from a classmate during discussion, etc. These extra-curricular commonplace passages, however, are in addition to and not in place of the required passages as described below.
I’d be curious to see those who are using Hypothes.is as a social annotation tool in coursework utilize this outline (or similar ones) in combination with their annotation practices.
Curating one’s annotations and placing them into a commonplace book or zettelkasten would be a fantastic rhetorical exercise to extend the value of one’s notes and ideas.
It’s reminiscent of the system 1 (fast) and system2 (slow) ideas behind Kahneman and Tversky’s work in behavioral economics. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow)
It’s also interesting in light of this tweet which came up recently:
I very much miss the back and forth with blog posts responding to blog posts, a slow moving argument where we had time to think.
— Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) August 22, 2017
Because the Tweet was shared out of context several years later, someone (accidentally?) replied to it as if it were contemporaneous. When called out for not watching the date of the post, their reply was “you do slow web your way…”#
This gets one thinking. Perhaps it would help more people’s contextual thinking if more sites specifically labeled their posts as fast and slow (or gave a 1-10 rating)? Sometimes the length of a response is an indicator of the thought put into it, thought not always as there’s also the oft-quoted aphorism: “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”.
The ease of use of the UI on Twitter seems to broadly make it a platform for “fast” posting which can too often cause ruffled feathers, sour feelings, anger, and poor communication.
What if there were posting UIs (or micropub clients) that would hold onto your responses for a few hours, days, or even a week and then remind you about them after that time had past to see if they were still worth posting? This is a feature based on Abraham Lincoln’s idea of a “hot letter” or angry letter, which he advised people to write often, but never send.
Where is the social media service for hot posts that save all your vituperation, but don’t show them to anyone? Or which maybe posts them anonymously?
The opposite of some of this are the partially baked or even fully thought out posts that one hears about anecdotally, but which the authors say they felt weren’t finish and thus didn’t publish them. Wouldn’t it be better to hit publish on these than those nasty quick replies? How can we create better UI to solve for this?
I saw a sitcom a few years ago where a girl admonished her friend (an oblivious boy) for liking really old Instagram posts of a girl he was interested in. She said that deep-liking old photos was an obvious and overt sign of flirting.
If this is the case then there’s obviously a social standard of sorts for this, so why not hold your tongue in the meanwhile, and come up with something more thought out to send your digital love to someone instead of providing a (knee-)jerk reaction?
Of course now I can’t help but think of the annotations I’ve been making in my copy of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Do you suppose that Lucretius knows I’m in love?
An aspect that’s missing from the overall discussion here is that of the commonplace book. Edwards’ Miscellanies is a classic example of the Western note taking and idea collecting tradition of commonplace books.
While the name for his system is unique, his note taking method was assuredly not. The bigger idea goes back to ancient Greece and Rome with Aristotle and Cicero and continues up to the modern day.
From roughly 900-1300 theologians and preachers also had a sub-genre of this category called florilegia. In the Christian religious tradition Philip Melanchthon has one of the more influential works on the system: De locis communibus ratio (1539).
You might appreciate this article on some of the tradition: https://blog.cph.org/study/systematic-theology-and-apologetics/why-are-so-many-great-lutheran-books-called-commonplaces-or-loci
You’ll find Edwards’ and your indexing system bears a striking resemblance to that of philosopher John Locke, (yes that Locke!): https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/john-lockes-method-for-common-place-books-1685
Interleaving a copy of your favorite text can leave massive amounts of space for marginalia!
Copies of print and digital editions of Jonathan Edwards’ blank Bible are available.
- Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Blank-Bible-Works-Jonathan-Edwards/dp/0300109318/
- Online: http://edwards.yale.edu/archive?path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9zZWxlY3QucGw/d2plby4yMw==
Apparently one can buy modern copies of interleaved bibles as well: https://www.amazon.com/Interleaved-Journal-Hardcover-Letter-Comfort/dp/078524316X/
Video review of an interleaved bible:
What other books can be found in interleaved editions? Ayn Rand perhaps?
Free registration is still open for those who’d like to attend remotely.
Antero Garcia (Stanford University) and Remi Kalir (University of Colorado Denver) will discuss their recently published book Annotation (MIT Press) and the literary, scholarly, civic, and everyday significance of annotation across historical and contemporary contexts. Their conversation will focus on social annotation contributing to learners’ digital and civic literacies, how annotation enables creative and critical learning, as well as implications for teacher education and professional learning.