Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whither print?

I just reread a not-so-recent posting on Infoworld.com about the demise of the print edition of that venerable tech magazine. It is a short article, worth the read even for those not into tech specifically. Ed Foster writes about his mixed feelings regarding the cessation of a hard copy edition of the magazine as it moved to a web-only existence.

I have to confess that I share his ambivalence about the future of "dead tree" editions of things. I love curling up with a good book. I adore the smell of a used book store and the feel of a quality edition of old favorites. You can take a paperback book camping and not worry about battery life. Or weight. A room lined with full bookshelves is a beautiful thing. There are many things I also like about print magazines, not the least of which is their linearity or at least their limited options for jumping around.

Sometimes clicking around links on web pages makes me wonder if I'll ever find my way back to something I wanted to read but saw in passing on the way somewhere else. My desktop regularly gets overwhelmed with links to these pages that I drop there "temporarily" so i can get back to them. At one point, I had created a half dozen desktop folders at different times to hold these "must read" links that I never seemed to find the time to get back to but had to get off my desktop.

It appears that many, many people agree with me that print is a terrific medium. I've heard the comment "I don't like reading on a computer screen" so many times I've lost count. Not just from adults, either, but even from a surprising number of students.

But if this sentiment is really so ubiquitous, why are print magazines getting smaller and smaller? Or moving strictly to the web like Infoworld? Why are newspapers losing readership and advertising dollars--the only two sources of revenue they have to keep going?

Is this a trend merely of the news sites, whose content must be fresh and constantly changing? Their need for quick presentation of the "new" would definitely make electronic access more desirable for both producer and reader. Or is it bigger trend that is starting there but with time will move on to literature? Already electronic publishing of research papers, which do not normally change after publishing, is happening electroinically. Is it only a matter of time before everyone is so accustomed to reading on screen that they will naturally gravitate to that medium for books' content as well?

Previous transitions in this transmission of information (verbal to written, scrolls to books, manual copies to printing press) each produced such a noticeable improvement without obvious down side that the transition was probably quickly and widely accepted. (At least it appears so in retrospect. One imagines that folks at the time may not have thought so.) Does the transition from paper to pixels have this same upside-only character? It looks that way for at least some content.

As Tablet PCs become more widely accepted and deployed (which, in spite of the naysaying of those who still don't get it, they are and will) some of the other objections will be eliminated from the equation. While not the same experience as reading a book, neither is reading on a Tablet like reading on a strictly vertical screen on a desk, or even on a notebook on your lap. Several good reader formats already exist and more are being explored and developed. More and better ways of allowing annotation are being created. Tablet models are, for the most part, comfortable to carry and hold and will continue to improve over time (although right now we are seeing one step backward for each step forward with many vendors. HP, are listening? Give us back a detachable keyboard, screen and bezel buttons, and the scroller!)

I don't claim to know what the future holds, but I'll be very surprised if most of us aren't doing most of our reading on Tablets or Tablet-like devices down the road. What about you?


So much has been happening over the last year (or two!) that postings here have languished. Certainly not for lack of topic material!

We are now officially a one-to-one Tablet PC school. After a major vendor snafu, we are now mostly running on HP 2710p Tablet PCs, which I generally like well. (More on this later.) We are a significantly smaller school than we have been in the past, a somewhat intentional short-term situation with a large impact on our program. We had a great orientation week planned with lots of Tablet PC based training--which was completely derailed by the aforementioned vendor snafu. We recovered and did an abbreviated version of it that was quite successful in my opinion. (Gotta roll with those punches.) Preparations are ongoing for the 2008 WIPTE conference, with a new video presentation option this year geared primarily toward pre-K-12. More on this on the WIPTE site shortly. We've begun the implementation of a work request tracking system that I have very mixed feelings about, but which is an essential part of supporting such a one-to-one program. We've made a commitment to a 10 minute max response time for any classroom technology issue that arises during a class.

And I could go on and on...

But for now I'll put up a quick post to follow this one that is mostly just a bit of pondering about the state of the world.