Initial Reflection on Social Edition

As I was reading the Siemens et. al. article “Toward Modeling the Social Edition…” I was initially struck by how much I take the internet and all of the information that it holds for granted. I’ve known for quite a while now that the information does not just appear by itself and that someone, somewhere, was getting paid to create these websites and upload the wealth of information that is now accessible. That being said, I have to admit that I have taken for granted the amount of effort and knowledge that goes into the digitization of literature. I have never been a fan of e-books or online readings and PDFs – I like to hold the tangible item in my hands, I like writing marginalia (which is infinitely easier to produce on a literal piece of paper). The only times I really like digitized literature is when I am doing research for school. I can read items of interest from university libraries that are across Canada or in the US. I can easily further my research with a few clicks of the mouse and a few words typed into a library database. 

However the positive attributes of this digital age of scholarly editions are accompanied by negative ones. Siemens et. al. believe that the available tools connected to each digital scholarly edition speed up the process of “academic reading-related tasks” (4) – but do they really? I mean, sure, more/supplementary information is readily available to to reader – links to other websites, definitions, annotations, references used for further reading etc. But this added information strewn throughout the original scholarly edition also interrupts the reading of the original source. The non-linear structure and interaction with the text encourages and perpetuates the A.D.D. mentality of the current generation and has the potential to overwhelm the reader. The reader of this scholarly edition is not necessarily going to be an academic – or at least not a seasoned one. Not to mention that the use and availability of these supplementary sources is never as “seamless” as Siemens et. al. would like to believe. Sites are not always that easy and natural to navigate, which can cause difficulties for the layman – especially if they get drawn too far away from the original text.

The biggest question that has been produced upon my reading of Siemens et. al. is where does one draw the line when inputting the supplementary and additional sources? It is presumable that these digitized scholarly editions are being created for more than just (seasoned) academics. Each text should be available and readable to everyone and anyone – so how does one decide what information the readers should already know (the “common knowledge information” i.e. information that is left unlinked to other sources/definitions/websites/annotations etc.) and the information that the readers will need to know more of (i.e. the extras that are added to this digital edition)?

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8 Responses to Initial Reflection on Social Edition

  1. julie.morrissy says:

    I love this idea of being “drawn too far away from the original text”! With texts now having such a wealth of information attached to them, I do wonder where does one draw the line of usefulness, and when we are falling down a rabbit hole of information? In terms of research, it is helpful to be able to easily delve further into your topic, but when does it become a distraction? When does a massive pool of information, which may or may not be relevant, become more of a hassle than an advantage? I know that sounds like I’m advocating for a type of ignorance, but really I mean that on a practical level, sometimes the many, many avenues that you can be whisked off on in your research can lead to more confusion, rather than more clarity.

    • steven.jankowski says:

      What strikes me about your response as well as Michelle’s is this desire to counter the “freedom” of hypertext. Instead, I think I am hearing an appeal for establishing a logic of connection that does not give into the allure of an endless network. I think that’s something quite valuable to consider.

  2. margaret.milde says:

    Your point about being carried away from the original text and being left hanging somewhere awkward and irrelevant in cyberspace is a challenge posed by the “social edition”. In an age of distraction and avoidance, our personal and communal ADD becomes exacerbated by the internet phenomena. But how do we adapt? Do we need to evolve and learn how to have multi-faceted focus rather than uni-focus? I am just not sure how this can be achieved, what teaching methods should be used, and whether we should change the internet or change ourselves.

    • nlikarev says:

      I really like where you are going with this. In our readings so far, we’ve already come across the problem with phenomenon like hypertext and the question of whether or not we or the internet needs to be modified.
      I think our expectations are all out of order.
      Perhaps the expectations of the burgeoning technologies of the 2000s is too much. The fault is not in us, it is the machine that can be improved upon. The internet was supposed to make researching easier than it was 20 years ago and in many ways it has. As Michelle mentions, copies of text are available online. Instead of wasting time and money getting the copy, it can be retrieved from home. I wonder why people’s expectations of the internet are so high that they’ve turned the blame on themselves instead of the machine when the machine proves that we cannot make perfection, so than how can we ever make ourselves perfect?!

  3. cstelman says:

    I was also struck by this idea of the social edition drawing us too far away from the original text, but wouldn’t expecting limitations on how far we wander from the text kind of undermine the whole point? If I wanted to read a text like a book, I would read the book, not the social edition. However, if I wanted to experience the text in a different, dynamic way, I would turn to the social edition, with the expectation that it would be overwhelming.

    • sydney.tyber says:

      Cstelman, you bring up a great point here. Although a part of agrees with margaret.milde and julie.morrissy, that sometimes we can just go too far, I think that we need to bring the discussion back to one of POTENTIAL. The idea of “being drawn away from the original text” is only relevant if the reader/user chooses to interface with the text to do so. A social edition gives that option, or offers the potential, but a reader is by no means required to do so. Furthermore, the idea of choice is further introduced and impressed upon by cstelman, and it is at the crux of her above statement: “If I wanted to read a text like a book, I would [CHOOSE TO] read a book, not the social edition. However, if I wanted to experience the text in a different, dynamic way, I would [CHOOSE] the social edition”.

      Perhaps, in response to Maragaret’s question about how our thinking and reading practice should change in our ADD era, we need to learn and educate others on how to make the choice about which edition is best for each person’s own requirements.

  4. kcadieux says:

    I think Dr. Michael Sinatra spoke to a possible solution for this in his lecture on Thursday. He mentioned a new book being published electronically where the material was divided into layers – first the text itself, followed by annotations, and then commentary written by students. There may have been an extra layer or two in there that I’ve forgotten, but the idea would be that the reader could choose how many parts of the text they wanted to see on their screen at once. Maybe this has been done before, and I’ve just never seen a good example, but I like the idea of handing back a sense of agency to the reader. In response to Julie’s original comment, there would still be a lot of material there, but the reader and researcher would perhaps be better equipped to avoid a rabbit hole of limitless information.

  5. jason.boyd says:

    One aspect of the original post is reminiscent of an anxiety over how digital technology is changing traditional ways of reading, perhaps leading to a loss of these traditional ways of reading (Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies is probably the best known commentator on this issue). sydney.tauber’s foregrounding of the choice available to the reader is important here, as is the particular goal a reader has when reading a text.

    Regarding the question of getting away from the primary text, lost, and disoriented, I think two things should be considered.

    First, to what extent is the anxiety over this fuelled by the loss of authority — that is, by the inability of the author to ensure that the reader will focus solely on the author’s text — and whether the empowerment of the reader that results is to be regarded as a positive or a negative.

    Second, the potential for getting lost speaks to the importance of developing “electracy” — a skill set enabling effective navigation of hypermedia as well as the ability to effectively design digital information structures, on the understanding that the structure will crucially impact how a digital resource will be understood.

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