Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Socializing the book

The discussion of creation through the juxtaposition of existing elements can take many forms. For example, Lawrence Lessig’s Remix puts forth the idea that mixing individually copyrighted elements, like overlaying a song on top of a series film clips, creates a new entity, the remix, that shouldn’t be subject to copyright constraints on each of its components.  The argument is that the remixer has created something new, a new work of art born of the unique juxtaposition of existing works. In the course of reading a book lent to me by my good friend Warren today, I found myself intrigued by how his notes in the margins transformed the book into something else, a new work of sorts. 

The book that Warren lent me (Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be, an excellent exploration of the social construction of reality [constructivism] vs. objectivism) stands on its own as a solid scholarly work. But I found my eyes constantly drawn to Warren’s scrawls in the margins. Pithy phrases like, “Descartes” and “Tower of Babel” either created a unique form of synthesis through a juxtaposition he made or pointed out the potential influences in the creation of an idea. 

Of course, it’s not that interesting in and of itself to say that your eyes can be drawn to margin notes in a lent book. What I thought was interesting was the social aspect of the need I felt to respond in some cases. I wanted to, in places, say, “Yes, this is Cartesian in a way! I hadn’t considered that. It made me think of reality constructed through a Manichean lens, myself.” Perhaps he hadn’t thought of that (but he probably did). The point is that as he altered the work to create a new work through his notes, and I wanted to create yet another new work via my responses, we get toward a very social interaction with a long-form piece. 

Consider the full-circle social implications of this: 
• Warren lends me a book that he thinks, knowing me, that I will finding interesting or at least provoking • He’s read this book and marked it up • I read the book and add my own notes and respond to some of his • I give the book back • He skims and looks for my responses.
Unlike a traditional book group, we’ve just interacted with the work in serial. We didn’t have to remember specific ideas and discuss them. We marked all of them, and we could always discuss later. It makes me wonder if a technology exists to do this. Or how hard it would be to create one. For example, Kindle books allow for social underlinings/highlights. But what if you could comment up an ebook and share those comments just with your friends. It would be a new way of interacting with the long-form via social networking technologies!

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