They Keep Using That Word

by David Sleight

12 Reader Comments

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  1. Superb article and so true. Myself and a visually impaired friend were talking to a publisher (or representative of…) in London about how I’d transformed a few sections of a travel book of theirs into an interactive talking book with background sound files recorded at the locations the book covers and how such a product, as a downloadable app for instance, could open up a whole new market for them. Such a product would be such a bonus for not only the visually impaired but for those who’d prefer not to travel around with heaps of heavy paperback and for whom natural sounds can add to the lure of a site and open up a whole new world. All we got was ‘oh, but we focus on real books’. Ach well, their loss could be a gain for small scale dynamic independent publishers who have the insight and the skills to tap into new markets… and work on a slightly less conventional business model.
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  2. In the late 90s, my grandmother would ask my wife what she would do if I got a “real” job and had to go back to work in an office.
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  3. Excellent Article. Another interesting implication of the use of “real” is when it accompanies the concept of “time.”  I once read an interesting short essay by Jessica Hefland called “The myth of real time” - in which she talked about how the digital concept of “real time” became equated with “fast.”  Doing something in “real time” in digital environments is of course desired (for one reason or another). There is an irony to it…in actual “real” life, most things worth doing take time…cooking takes time…lab work takes time…yet with the digital we dismiss such notions, so much now that we barely use the term “real time” anymore.  It’s a given and expected.
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  4. @Peter Jeffels: That is staggering, and a perfect (unfortunate) example of a publisher totally missing out because they’re stuck in the language and mindset the column critiques. I hope you were able to present that idea to a more progressive group. It needs to be done!
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  5. @Jason Occhipinti: Yup. The word comes with a lot of baggage that shades our perception. Something I’d like to see us all gradually move away from.
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  6. I use the word actual. As in actual book. A book is an object. Digital devices are objects. An ebook is different from an actual book. There are distinctions between the forms and the business models. Hence the tumult in the publishing industry.
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  7. One thing that makes ebooks not real is the ability for somebody else to arbitrarily remove your ability to read it.  Or prevent you from loaning it out or reselling it.
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  8. Part of the issue with physical media companies is that they offer an “integrated” experience, ala Apple. Someone has to write 2000 words so that it will fit in the page design of the paper. Everything, from the ink on photos to the widths of columns and the words on the page are all highly optimised for this process. Their problem is, the process is failing. However, they don’t want to give up the optimisation. If they did, they’d just be bloggers, and journalists are better than that. If I can paint a parallel, it’s the same as the old telecommunications engineers. They keep talking about quality of service, optimising channels, etc. because that’s what they’re used to. That’s the “real” in their “real job”. All these flaming kids with their internet phones don’t understand the care and attention that needs to go into a phone network. The problem is, you’re asking these people to throw away 20 odd years of their understanding of the world in order to embrace the new one. How do you tell all these media guys that everything they’ve learnt is now worthless? If I may paraphrase Grandpa Simpson: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me, and it’ll happen to you, too”
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  9. i touch on many of these issues in my IRL Fetish essay and my work on “digital dualism”: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-irl-fetish/ very much agree that “real” is a terrible word to designate the not-internet.
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  10. Great article, well articulated - earned yourself a “real” follow on Twitter, David
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  11. Thanks. As a web designer/coder by day and knitter/crafter/seamstress by night, I’m sometimes disappointed that my chosen career relies so much on digital (read “virtual”) media. When I can see and feel the sweater I spent hours on in my hands, and then think that the other products I make are experienced only through internet connections, battery power or electricity on demand, dependent on a user’s browser, monitor, CPU speed… It ends up feeling so very fake, un-‘real’, and imaginary. If catastrophe (an EMP?) struck and we lost all power or data connections, I’d lose even the record of my life’s work to date. I wish there were more encouragement that the digital world is as real as the physical one, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to match that tactile impression of value that physical objects have.
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  12. @Sarah: It’s common to see cultural critics link an object’s physicality to a perception that it’s somehow “lasting”. But there are ways to preserve digital content so it endures. This is still a relatively new field, so those options aren’t fully mature, nor are we universally comfortable with them yet.
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