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EBOOKS VS SCHOLARSHIP (A PERSONAL RANT: PART ONE)

August 13, 2014 By Joseph P. Farrell

Rarely do I rant here, on personal things of little real significance, though, there is method to my madness, as we'll see tomorrow. But there is, in fact, some significance to my ranting, perhaps...just perhaps...

I'm speaking of the so-called "e-book", those wonders of modern electronics that, true to their claim, allow you to cart whole libraries around in a device that can fit into your hand. I'm no Luddite, and certainly not opposed to technological progress. The thought of doing so I will readily confess tempted me. I have a fairly large personal library, and have had since college days. The thought of moving it always fills me with apprehension, and the thought of being able to do so by putting it all into a digital medium and popping it into a small suitcase is compelling, if for no other reason than financial economy.

But as the attraction of the technology worked on my mind, so did its dangers. I began to distrust a technology whose premier marketing identity was a name that conjured the actual burning of books. Others began to write about the dangers vs conveniences of the technology, usually in pieces of fluff that address no real issues or concerns, but concentrating instead on the inane and trivial: one couldn't take the technology into the bathtub, batteries would die right as one was reading toward the climax of the action in a book, you get headaches from reading a screen for too long, etc etc (see this article for an "example" of such "critique": Arguments Against eBooks).

Others have argued on a more "mystical" basis: ebooks will "lose the trace of the author," they don't have the same "mystique" as handling a book and turning the page, and so on.

But it's that "trace of the author" thing that, surprisingly, is not as mystical as it sounds.

Readers here know that I not only write  my books, but in those books publisher by Adventures Unlimited Press, I also format them as well. I create as near camera-ready copy as I can. Granted, in the final formatting done by Adventures Unlimited, some of my intentions are lost(and regretably, some typos retained). For example, I never format a book with a section header ending on a page (or being split between one page and another) with main text following on the next page. I never have a picture with a caption on the following page. Such artifacts result by processing once the books are out of my hands. But in the main, the books appear more or less exactly as I want them to appear, with certain things oftentimes being very deliberately placed on certain specific pages for effect. Similarly with footnoting. In formatting books I have tried, when referencing one source over repeated footnotes, to place the title at the head of each string of footnotes on each page, rather than as in the old practice of an endless series of "Ibids" requiring the reader to flip back several pages to recall the text being reference. And yes, this was a conscious and deliberate personal modification of the "Chicago Manual of Style" on my part, along with a few others(I still use "p." and "pp." for example, when the modern manuals have largely dropped these, presenting the reader in some cases with a near-indecipherable string of numbers. And I don't even want to begin talking about the abominable AP or MLA "style manuals". They are not systems of referencing orthography. They are merely scholarly laziness). Again, in final editing at the publisher, this oftentimes means that my attempt to begin citations on each page with the exact title and page reference is thwarted, as an "Ibid" from the previous page creeps onto the head of the list on a new page, and the exact title reference gets pushed a little lower in the line. Such was not my intention, but is an inevitable consequence of reformatting. But, again, in the main, the page has the appearance of how I intended it to look.

Which brings us to the ebook. Here my primary concern has always been twofold: (1) it is impossible to use them to reference properly, since the author's and/or publisher's formatting intentions are utterly lost, and(my real concern) (2) this opens up the potential for much more profound mischief, such as the deliberate alteration, deletion, or simple suppression of an author's works by the corporate or other power, via the technology. There is no external check on the content if everything were to move to ebook format. And finally, someone else seems to have noticed this problem:

Kindle is fun but sucks for scholars

No reference to the original pagination? Granted, it's a lovely tool for the mandarins of the Amairicuhn edubabble establishment, enamored as they are of substandard referencing systems like MLA or AP. Page number? Why bother with that? Just put (Tolstoy, 1869), and put the whole reference in the bibliography (Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace, 1869, &c. &c.) and let the reader figure out amid several other parenthetical references interrupting the main (Edubabble, 2013) text which page you (as you turn to the bibliography and find M.O. Edubabble, D.Ed., "Using MLA Referencing Standards to Improve Cognitive Dissonance," Journal of Psychoblither, vol 204,781, no. 4, 2013, 22-23) meant. (and if there are any AP MLA advocates out there reading this, save yourselves the time writing to point out this detail or that detail. I haven't learned your systems because I don't consider them worth learning, much less forcing on students. Period. End of discussion. No negotiation.)

And if you think I'm joking about the parenthetical "references", it's almost that bad. With the ebook, the edubabblers won't have to worry about any page references, since these always change depending on how one formats one's "tablet" or "app" (insert trendy nomenclature here). The ultimate reductio of such a process will be some sort of digital version of the Soviet Encyclopedias of the Stalinist era, with the uncomfortable pictures or words being edited on the spot by the people with the actual access to the technology and the "e-texts,"

Now, if you think all this is alarmist Luddite nonsense...imagine all your personal financial documents being in such a format and no other...

...oh, wait, that's tomorrow's "Rant, Part Two"...

...for the moment: a plea to those reading my books only in ebook format: cease and desist, because you're not seeing them as I intended them to look. If they're worth the money, then they're worth buying, not "renting". They're worth owning, and having, and not "storing." I have no control over the fact that my publishers allow them to appear in that format. I make more money from ebook royalties on a percentage basis than I do from real hardcopy, but nonetheless, that is my plea.

And as we'll see tomorrow, the stakes may be more profound and far-reaching than people can imagine.

See you on the flip side...