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Okay, this is blantantly self-serving in one way, since I worked on the DFRPG, and the conceit was my idea, so yeah. And also, it is squee-worthy for something I worked on to be TVTrope’d.
But the other way is also interesting: the value and the perspectives that the audience of a work takes away from that work, sometimes in tune, sometimes discordant, with the music the creator(s) were intending.
In any case, as with any random Wiki- or TVT-dive, plenty of fun links to follow and lose hours of your time. ;)
The Dresden Files RPG (DFRPG) is Evil Hat’s Tabletop RPG adaptation of the popular Urban Fantasy series of novels. After the events of Small Favor, Billy Borden and the Alphas have set out to make a monster-slaying manual for the 21st Century with the help of Harry Dresden, framing it as a roleplaying game so that people who are unaware of the supernatural won’t reject it outright. Their efforts produce two mud-splattered spiral-bound rough drafts with Harry, Billy, and Harry’s spirit friend Bob having conversations in the margins and on sticky notes about the rules, the setting, and whatever else happens to pop into their heads. The resulting commentary manages to be simulatenously informative and side-splittingly hilarious, making the books a worthwhile read even for those not interested in playing the game.
Google Plus never was, and will never be, only about competing directly with Facebook.
From its launch through today, everyone viewed Google Plus as “Google’s version of Facebook,” because that’s the only sticky, simple headline that we can wrap our brain around. Most people believe it’s just another social networking service where all of our friends are supposed to join and share photos, status updates, and messages with each other. But it’s really not that at all.
GOOGLE PLUS’S BRILLIANT METHOD OF GAINING NEW USERS IS PLAYING OUT RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, BUT NO ONE RECOGNIZES IT.
Sure, there’s a social networking aspect to it, but Google Plus is really Google’s version of Google. It’s the groundwork for a level of search quality difficult to fathom based on what we know today. It’s also the Borg-like hive-queen that connects all the other Google products like YouTube, Google Maps, Images, Offers, Books, and more. And Google is starting to roll these products all up into a big ball of awesome user experience by way of Google Plus, and that snowball is starting to pick up speed and mass.
We all glommed onto the concept of “Google’s version of Facebook,” and focused only on comparing the similarities and differences between the two (such as number of users it had, whether “Circles” are “good,” and how “hangouts” are weird). But in reality, none of that matters. I happen to think Circles are a slightly smarter way to organize your personal connections, but it’s a “feature” that Facebook could copy with their eyes closed in a single hackathon. It is not the kind of thing that decides success or failure.
What makes Google Plus different is that it is the new backbone of a company that does search better than anyone already—something Facebook could never compete with. You use Google to search, right? Well, imagine if Google knew every piece of data about you that Facebook knew. Imagine how better equipped they would be to serve you what you are looking for. Google Plus is a way of entrenching Google’s dominance in that area, not a way of stealing Facebook users. If you are in first place, that’s the time to accelerate your lead.
Google Plus’s brilliant method of gaining new users is playing out right in front of our eyes, but no one recognizes it.
TMI- Too much information- is a concept we are all familiar with.
With a keyboard, a mouse click or two, we can access just about any bit of information we might need. What was once a long term investment in term of time and commitment, information can now be readily absorbed in a matter of moments. Is that a bad thing?
Maybe, maybe not.
As access to knowledge increases there will inevitably be problems and culture shock as one ‘regime’ replaces another- but that may very well be a small price to pay.
The same argument was made with the advent of the printing press and encyclopedias and other reference books. Prescribed avenues of study were upended as students could rely on books to search out information for themselves. The advent of books allowed students to become with related and non related disciplines and as a result research yielded fantastic results. As literacy and books came into wide purview (and not controlled by religious or aristocratic classes) our knowledge- and freedom- expanded exponentially. Education didn’t just empower a few individuals. Education empowers a nation, a culture and a society.
In nations where intellectual pursuits are encouraged, societies are free and advanced. In nations where intellectual pursuits are stifled, cultures and societies remain backward and constrained. A society and culture which fights to keep racism and bigotry institutionalized are lesser societies and cultures. A society and culture which fights and resists racism and bigotry are far healthier.
As revolutions rock the beginning of the 21st century we can only hope the revolutionaries who access to global information networks choose to embrace the elevation of their populations, societies and cultures. Those revolutionaries who choose to rearrange the deckchairs on what is a sinking ship will themselves be overthrown and be soon be forgotten.
Once unleashed, an educated class and those with access to education and knowledge cannot be kept down.
We now live in the early part of an age for which the meaning of print culture is becoming as alien as the meaning of manuscript culture was to the eighteenth century. “We are the primitives of a new culture,” said Boccioni the sculptor in 1911. Far from wishing to belittle the Gutenberg mechanical culture, it seems to me that we must now work very hard to retain its achieved values.
—Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962
Technological revolutions are far less obvious than political revolutions to the generations that live through them. This is true even as new tools, for better and worse, shift human history more than new regimes do. Innovations offer silent coups. We rarely appreciate the changes they bring until they are brought. Whether or not we become the primitives of a new culture, as the Futurist Umberto Boccioni observed, most of us still live behind the times and are content to do so. We expect the machines of the present to fulfill the needs of the past even as they deliver us into a future of unknowns.
World-changing inventions almost always create new roles rather than fill old ones. It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?was the classic response to the telephone, variously attributed to Ulysses S. Grant or Rutherford B. Hayes but probably said by neither of them. Life-altering technologies often start as minor curiosities and evolve into major necessities with little reflection on how they reform our perceptions or even how they came to be.
In the eighteenth century, Edmund Burke could see the significance of the French Revolution while observing its developments in real time. Yet “in the sixteenth century men had no clue to the nature and effects of the printed word,” writes Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy, his 1962 book on the printing revolution and the dawning of the electronic age. It wasn’t until nearly 200 years on that Francis Bacon located the printing press alongside gunpowder and the compass as changing “the whole face and state of things throughout the world.” Writing in his 1620 book Novum Organum (“New Instrument”), Bacon maintained that “no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.” In the nineteenth century, Victor Hugo called the invention of printing the “greatest event in history” and the “mother of revolution.” Political revolution began in this technological upheaval.
Books reveal themselves. Whether they exist as print or pixels, they can be read and examined and made to spill their secrets. Readers are far more elusive. They leave traces—a note in the margin, a stain on the binding—but those hints of human handling tell us only so much. The experience of reading vanishes with the reader.
How do we recover the reading experiences of the past? Lately scholars have stepped up the hunt for evidence of how people over time have interacted with books, newspapers, and other printed material.
“You’re looking for teardrops on the page,” says Leah Price, a professor of English at Harvard University and the author of How to Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton University Press, 2012). “You’re looking for some hard evidence of what the book did to its reader”—and what the reader did with the book.
Price’s work perches at the leading edge of a growing body of investigations into the history of reading. The field draws from many others, including book history and bibliography, literary criticism and social history, and communication studies. It looks backward to the pre-Gutenberg era, back to the clay tablets and scrolls of ancient civilizations, and forward to current debates about how technology is changing the way we read. Although much of the relevant research has centered on Anglo-American culture of the last three or four centuries, the field has expanded its purview, as scholars uncover the hidden reading histories of cultures many used to dismiss as mostly oral.
It’s a tricky business. A bibliographer works with hard physical evidence—a manuscript, a printed book, a copy of the Times of London. A scholar seeking to pin down the readers of the past often has to read between the lines. Marginalia can be a gold mine of information about a book’s owners and readers, but it’s rare. “Most of the time, most readers historically didn’t, and still don’t, write in their books,” Price explains.
Amid the seemingly endless debates today about the future of reading, there remains one salient, yet often overlooked fact: Reading isn’t only a matter of our brains; it’s something that we do with our bodies. Reading is an integral part of our lived experience, our sense of being in the world, even if at times this can mean feeling intensely apart from it. How we hold our reading materials, how we look at them, navigate them, take notes on them, share them, play with them, even where we read them—these are the categories that have mattered most to us as readers throughout the long and varied history of reading. They will no doubt continue to do so into the future.
Understanding reading at this most elementary level—at the level of person, habit, and gesture—will be essential as we continue to make choices about the kind of reading we care about and the kind of technologies that will best embody those values. To think about the future of reading means, then, to think about the long history of how touch has shaped reading and, by extension, our sense of ourselves while we read.
The significance of the tactility of reading could begin with St. Augustine. In the eighth book of his Confessions, Augustine describes the moment of his conversion to becoming a Christian:
In my misery I kept crying, “How long shall I go on saying, ‘tomorrow, tomorrow?’ ” Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this very moment? I was asking myself these questions when all at once I heard the singing voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain, “Take it and read, take it read.”
Augustine is sitting beneath a fig tree in his garden, and upon hearing the voice he takes up the Bible lying near him and opens a passage at random and begins reading (Romans 13:13-14). At this moment, he tells us, “I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.” Augustine closes the book, marking his place with his finger, and goes to tell his friend Alypius about his experience. His conversion is complete.
No other passage has more profoundly captured the meaning of the book than this one. Not just reading but reading books was aligned in Augustine with the act of personal conversion. Augustine was writing at the end of the fourth century, when the codex had largely superseded the scroll as the most prevalent form of reading material. We know Augustine was reading a book from the way he randomly accesses a page and uses his finger to mark his place. The conversion at the heart of The Confessions was an affirmation of the new technology of the book within the lives of individuals, indeed, as the technology that helped turn readers into individuals. Turning the page, not turning the handle of the scroll, was the new technical prelude to undergoing a major turn in one’s own life.
Finding myself for three or four months at a loose end on the island of Jersey, a tax haven in the English Channel, I decided to go into the archives and write a short book about three murders that took place there in as many months between December 1845 and February 1846, including that of the only policemen ever to have been done to death on the island, George Le Cronier. He was stabbed by the keeper of a brothel known as Mulberry Cottage, Madame Le Gendre, who, a true professional, struck upwards rather than downwards with her specially sharpened knife, exclaiming expressively as she did so, “Là!” Le Cronier staggered outside and said to his fellow policeman, Henri-Manuel Luce, “Oh mon garçon, je suis stabbé!” (the language of most people of the natives of the island at that time being a patois). He died a day later, and Madame Le Gendre was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life, outraging the righteous residents of Jersey with the elegance of her dress as she left the island, never to return.
Among the books I consulted in my researches in the library of the Société jersiaise was La lyre exilée, a book of poems published in 1847 by a French exile to the island, L. D. Hurel. All that I was able to find out about him (Hurel was a pseudonym) was that he arrived several years before the most famous French exile to Jersey, Victor Hugo; the reasons for his exile are unknown.
La lyre exilée contained a funeral ode to Le Cronier, as well as an ode to the abolition of the death penalty. Hurel published the former ode separately just after the murder, when feelings ran high on the island; according to the author, it sold out in two editions of two thousand copies each, which means that one in twelve of the population bought it.
Having left the island, and now writing the book, I discovered that my notes from La lyre exilée were incomplete and I needed to consult it again. Where could I go to do so? Books don’t come much more obscure: there were only twelve copies known in the world. (It is what the sellers of antiquarian books call very scarce, without ever letting on that people who are interested in it are scarcer still.) To return to Jersey was out of the question; then I discovered to my surprise, and initial pleasure, that the book had been digitized. I could consult it without leaving my study, without even shifting in my chair. I was briefly reconciled with and to the modern world.
Soon, however, my pleasure gave way to a melancholy, an unease, and even a slight bitterness. If a book as obscure as La lyre exilée were available online, did it not herald the extinction of the book itself, an article rendered redundant like the goose quills of old or fine sand to dry ink on paper?