Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beware the codeX!

Somewhat interesting things going on over at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, as the wonks there ponder whether the word “ebook” is evocative enough for this new species of reading material.

They’re proposing the word “codex” replace “ebook,” for the following reasons:
With some trepidation, we would like to nominate codex, a word with a rich history that most of us don’t know anything about. Codex, derived from the Latin caudex (meaning “trunk of a tree”) even happens to contain the English word code, which will be central to the future of reading in a variety of ways. The things we’ll be reading in the future will not only involve a lot of programming; they’ll also require readers to decode complex, multilayered experiences and encode their own ideas as contributions in a variety of creative ways. Since standard printed books are technically codices, we propose (with significantly more trepidation) to distinguish our variant with one of those annoying midword capitals: codeX, to remind us that these new things involve experience, experimentation, expostulation … you know, all those X things.
And, why the capital X, pray tell? Oh, they explain:
This also works nicely because it reminds us of the X-Men and the X Games: We see the future of reading as an arena with the social dynamics of competition and play, scoring points and showing off, rather than a LeVar Burton rainbow of love and generosity. (Twitter works like this now, as a performance space where we’re all more or less openly vying for the award for “most clever person on the Internet this minute.”) Books have always been potent weapons in the cultural battlefield for prestige and distinction, and they won’t magically turn into utopian spaces anytime soon. At the risk of sounding too academic, we think the X highlights the jousting and (hopefully friendly) conflict inherent to digital reading.
Part of me understands this. When the bound book was introduced, I’m sure there was some quibbling over what to call the newfangled things. Parchment or scroll wouldn’t work anymore, principally because you don’t roll up books like you do a scroll and while they might be made of parchment, books, with their mobility, their “staytogetherness” demanded some new nomenclature.
But part of me, the cynical part that would sit in French cafes and smoke cigarettes, wonders what the fuss is all about. At the same time people were coining the word “book” to differentiate the mechanism for recording and distributing packaged words, I have to wonder if the content was changing all that much. Just because there were books available didn’t mean there was a fundamental change in what was written. Books were still used to record stories, histories, profits and loss, births and deaths, and all the other arcane and ordinary information that used to get recorded on scrolls or parchment or clay tablets for that matter.
Social media may have changed the amount of access we as readers and authors have to reading material, commentary,  snark and cravings of fame, but things like Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads are just modern versions of things like Punch magazine, pubs, gentlemens’ clubs and other spots and venues for interaction of the literati and their fans and detractors. It’s more centralized, More accessible to the unwashed masses. But it’s the same book, just a different chapter.
Plus ca change, the old saw goes, plus c’est la meme chose.
Charlie Stross says pretty much that has he writes about the brave new world of “feral spambooks,” books that will leap into your ereaders and into your brain without your permission or consent, much like the tomato that would eject itself from and egg and tomato roll, or even your stomach, if an accident were imminent:
Advertising spam made its way into paperback books, so it’s inevitable that it’ll work its way into ebooks (or codeXes, I suppose). The insidious nature of books forcing themselves into your ereaders (probably another term these folks are uncomfortable with) seems, well, farfetched. But stranger things have happened. I’m sure ebooks (or codeXes are a ripe platform for malicious code, but I also have to wonder about the long-term prospects of any author or publishing platform that welcomed and encouraged such behavior. There’s enough snobbery about to ensure that this cockorachization of the publishing world wouldn’t occur, or at least occur to the technicrati who fret about such things.
Funny thing, though. I’ve read a lot of ebooks lately, and I can’t say it’s the novelty of e-reading that’s kept me going. I’m not sure I’m ready for texts that bear with them embedded video and music – that kind of thing has been tried before, what with books coming with their own websites, and experimentation with selling CDs along with the printed books.
No, what keeps me reading is boring, mundane stuff such as curiosity, characterization, plot and soforth. A good story doesn’t need the window-dressing, right? Because the window-dressing appears IN MY HEAD. And if we take the window dressing out of my head and into the electronic pages of a codex, well, we’ve entered the world of books that read themselves, so what do we need readers for?
Oh yeah. The money. Ha.

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