Art and culture

The misunderstanding regarding the digital reading

In this article we focus, for the nth time, on the false dualism between printed book and eBook or between reading in paper form & digital reading.


In the past we have analysed university studies that have established how the sequential reading on printed text leaves more traces in our memory, we have discovered, with surprise, that during reading the elderly ones benefit from the backlight provided by the tablets and we have tried to explain the remarkable potential, inherent in the hypertext, in the links that connect a text to another.

In this article we will try to demolish for good the misinterpretation related to the digital reading. In few lines we want to convince you that the dualism between reading on paper and digital reading is totally unfounded. To do this, we will use the recent report published by ISTAT, the Italian Institute of Statistics, on 13 January 2016, in reference to 2015, report known as “Reading in Italy” (“La lettura in Italia”).

Let’s focus right away on the first important concept taken in the report: In Italy, are over four million the people who have read at least once on digital, in the last quarter, and the phenomenon is progressively becoming of the large-scale:

8.2 % of the overall population (4.5 million people equal to the 14.1% of the people who have browse the Internet in the last three months) have read or have unloaded online books or e-books in the last three months.

Although the phenomenon is less extensive and fast comparing to others on the Internet, such as the viral spread of WhatsApp, we are dealing with numbers that should not be underestimated, on the rise. Besides, the time frame under consideration is relatively short, a quarter and not the whole year.

To this first axiom shall be added another one: the digital reading is not an alternative to the reading on paper. As many hypothesize, there are not taking shape two factions of readers on the contrary we are turning into “omnivorous readers” digital & paper-based.

The printed volumes and the digital books are not alternative publishing products neither in competition: the share of people who in the last 3 months have read online or have downloaded books or e-books increases in proportion to the number of books at home and touches the maximum value (23.8%) precisely among the people who already have a personal library with more than 200 volumes. 

Therefore who loves to read lives, more and more, this own “predisposition” both in traditional framework and by the use of new approaches. On second thought the thing has its own logic, the value of a novel or a story is inherent in the work and not in the device that allows us the fruition, while the interest, the passion, belongs to the reader. In the house of who loves to read, the real library and the virtual one can fuse together and complement each other.

The “digital reading” phenomenon analysed by ISTAT surprises us further:

In this context may be considered as a positive signal, even if still weak, the fact that approximately 6% of those who don’t have books in the house, has surfed however the Internet in the last three months  and has read online or has downloaded books or e-books. The diffusion of the books in digital format as well as the e-books could represent in perspective a new approach channel to reading for those families that don’t have great familiarity with libraries and printed books. 

Maybe, after several decades and mass literacy, the printed book has reached maximum interest; maybe new channels of access to cultural heritage, the digital ones, would capture the attention of who doesn’t read today.

The eBook can capture new potential readers, compulsive, with little free time, good interaction skills, with a good relation with the media material and the web, readers who, precisely for the characteristics listed so far, don’t have the right bounce with the printed book. To whom are we referring? Obviously to the youngest ones! Hypothesis that is confirmed by the next step:

The online reading and the downloading of books and e-books are usually activities practiced by the youngsters: it concerns particularly 22.4% guys between 18 and 19 years old who surf the Internet. According to the findings for the traditional books, are more the females who read online and download books (15.2% of the women who use the web) than the males (13.2%), reaching a peak among the 18-19 year-old girls (27.8%). 

Almost one young person in four, among those who browse the Internet, one in five in absolute terms, reads “digital”. The digital reading is taking hold among the new generations, this last statistic index  leads us to conjecture that the percentage of digital readers will only grow in the coming years, especially if, as we think, the devices for reading, the prices and the conditions of reading will further improve.

There is one last point, sociologically relevant, to analyse: the digital book, unlike the printed one, is read with similar frequency throughout Italy. The digital will perhaps smooth out the gap, present in the traditional reading that has always existed in Italy between North and South.

Taking into account the access to the digital books via Internet, the traditional distances among the different areas of the country seem to scale down: reading and downloading books and e-books through Internet concerns in fact a share of people that oscillates between 16.4% of the Northwest and 11.9% of the Southern Italy and between 16.9% of the inhabitants of the central communes of metropolitan areas and 13.9% of those of the small centers (from 2.001 to 10.000 inhabitants).

To sum up:

  • The dualism between printed text and digital one is non-existent; it is only a chit-chat (or Facebook gossip).
  • Who reads lots of traditional books reads more and more often the digital ones too.

The fear that the digital reading will produce armies of illiterate is equally unfounded; in fact the trends provided by ISTAT indicate the digital channel as the way to catch the attention of the “no readers”, particularly the youngest. This greater propensity to the digital reading takes place both in the North and in the South, overcoming historical limits inherent in traditional reading, besides Internet is a virtual space of which tendencies hardly have geographical borders.

The true protagonists of this change are the young people and, indirectly, the technological tools, but the true promoters, authors of every cultural need, are the social agents the persons closest to them, their parents, teachers, librarians, social workers and so on. The action of cultural mediation is the core of the whole process, while the paper, personal computers, tablets and e-readers are only the access channels to the information; channels that change, inevitably, as time goes by.

Printed format or Digital? Doesn’t matter as long as you keep reading!

Pass the word!



Emoticon, Emoji, Kaoani, Henohenomoheji, Shift_JIS art

old_emoticonThe expansion of the “internet universe” is determining lots of “collateral effects”, among these we underline the spreading of a certain “linguistic scissors” between the spoken language and the virtual one.
The global diffusion of chat and social services, tools of immediate access, often used through smart devices characterized by keyboards and video of small dimensions, available also on the move, is changing our way of expressing and communicating.
The virtual language, that is the “smart language“, is more and more synthetic, brief, ill-formed. First it has abandoned the punctuation, then the apostrophes and the accents and finally it has pushed aside the breaks, spaces and articles. But gradually, it is losing part of the vowels and consonants.
In some of the previous articles, we have pointed out the fact that internet is able to produce phenomena and tendencies as a reaction of rules and situations which characterize the real world. The new ways of communication, the new linguistic forms, confirm this axiom, that the world of the rhetoric, exposition, time and space with an exclusive use and available only for the few, finds its alternative in the social tools, direct, immediate and available to everyone: to the timid ones, the different ones, to the youngest.
A brachyological approach, in open contrast with the twentieth-century’s rhetoric, inclined to simplify, accelerate and reduce the waste of energies on the keyboard but, at the same time, able to provide an immediate contribution and, frequently, more sincere, participatory and collective, characterized by comments, opinions, emotions.
On top of this process we find of course the hashtags which became the common denominator of the cyber-thought, the glue between users who don’t know each others, the main vehicle for new tendencies and new debates. But it’s not just that…
Very close, still on the podium, we find the Emoticons, smileys, which represent facial expressions such as a smile or a frown, often used for emphasizing what was already said or in replay to what was just read (therefore fundamental in order to provide fast answers, simultaneously, to more friends or groups of friends). For instance it is widespread among the users of the chat WhatsApp, becoming a tool of global communication. The Emoticons have become the “salt and pepper” of our conversations. Hands up how many of you didn’t “spice” at least once a conversation or a comment with a smiley!

emoticonsIf we go further toward East we find the Emoji, pictographic symbols created in Japan. It is about entity characterized by a greater expressive detail, the same one “adopted” by Apple in its iOS system. The Japanese have a particular predilection toward these symbols, perhaps for the strong assonance with their method of pictographic writing. From a certain point of view the Kana, the syllabic alphabets which allow the writing in Japanese, are very close to these new tendencies, they represent the progeny of it.

EmojiAnd because the imagination has no limit, and consequently neither the forms of expression, online we also find the Kaoani, term derived from the Japanese kao (….smiley) and ani (….animation). It is about emoticon, normally very small, able to become animated in order to emphasize even more the concept. Altogether, in our opinion, the kaoani jump about a little too much. In fact, they do achieve their goal: to draw our attention.
In Japan the kaoani is also known as puff, blob souls, anikao or emoticon souls.
There are other forms of expression that are only apparently new, for instance the smileys denominated Henohenomoheji (へのへのもへじ) or Hehenonomoheji (へへののもへじ). It is about representations of faces, human expressions, used online but already present in the Japanese tradition as faces for scarecrows and masks. They are created positioning carefully some of the hiragana characters. In this case too, we have before us an expressive form that precedes the web advent: A form of simple communication, direct, childish, but at the same time immediate and rich of emotional potential.

henohenomohejiAs a background of all, we find forms of expression created in the early ‘80s, which use the set of characters ASCII, to put it plainly, that one that is currently on our keyboard and allows us to write. We are in the ASCII art, characterized by patterns, or better said by forms designed exclusively with the help of the special characters available on our keyboard.

ascii-snoopyTo confirm the “major plus” that the Japanese have in creating and using these expressive forms, we find the Shift_JIS art (Shift_Japanese Industrial Standards art), art which creates forms from the set of characters ASCII expressively enriched by the Japanese pictograms.
We clearly live the paradox where tools and new technologies determine a regression in the way of communicating and, at the same time, a remarkable increase regarding the quantity of the exchanged messages (not to mention how fast are exchanged and how many people are involved).
A global trend, characterized by various expressive forms, cannot be rejected by a simple urgency to reduce to a minimum the movements on the keyboard. There is clearly a trend in progress, which in answer to the expansion of our virtual relational net and the difficulty of contributing to our complex social system, tends to simplify, in a quite unique and original way, with the purpose of sharing emotional contents.
These new forms of art are the result of a precise process which includes the video games of the 1970s, the smileys, they too phenomenon in vogue in the 1980s, the SMS which allowed us to quickly communicate fast for all the 1990s, up to the new web, to the chats and the social networks 2.0.
After all, the web has only raised a sort of digital estate amplifying it on a global scale.


Estimote Stickers and the crumbs 2.0 of Tom Thumb

beaconsUp until now, our connection with internet has been active and receptive: we are the ones who decide when to connect, what to look for, whom to contact or simply when to check the news. We are active resources who use a global virtual system.
Internet is, from the interactive point of view, similar to our home phone. We contact or decide to answer to stimuli coming from other contacts, an autopoietic system whose confines have definite limits. It is necessary to use a device, an electronic device to be connected to internet, otherwise you cannot enter.
At the beginning such connection was possible only through a personal computer, a tool which still requires today, waiting times for power on and network connection. Subsequently, other devices came on the market, more immediate, such as smartphones and tablets, which can be activated in an instant and can be carried around in the pocket or purse allowing us to be often connected online during the day as many times as we want.
These devices represent only the first step to innovation, in the years to come new tools will permit us to mix, more and more, the real world with the cyber space.
The first tools which belong to this new generation are the already mentioned glasses. These glasses will increase our perception of reality adding helpful information such as: road signs, traffic data, medical information, other cybernauts’ comments on the restaurant or the hotel which we are interested in, danger alert or just the presence of one of our friends taking a walk in the vicinity and so on…
The reality will soon become a composition of real and virtual stimuli and situations.
The technology Bluetooth Smart or its natural evolution, it does not matter, will facilitate this interchange of information between our two universes, the real one and the virtual one.
In every shopping center, municipal office, school, library, coffee bar, cinema, etc, we will easily find small tools not only in condition to reveal our position GPS but also in condition to give us, immediately and consequently, potentially useful information.
The devices which have fulfilled this function up till now are the so-called iBeacon. The iBeacons are already active in all the American Apple stores; they are equipped to send to our own smart phone information concerning the device next to us, a kind of virtual salesclerk always to our disposal capable of explaining us the characteristics of the object of our interest.
Their use is even more important, although on an experimental basis, in San Francisco airport, in this case, the detectors intercept the passenger’s position and suggest to the blind and partially-sighted persons the direction to follow and the gate to reach, through the “VoiceOver” reader.
There are analogous experimentations in action or in progress among other international airports as well as in some subways, such as the one of London.
In short, a real tool, a small detector, crosses virtual lines with our (real) steps in order to provide us in real time (virtual) information on the surrounding real world. Obviously the promiscuity between real and virtual makes thinner and thinner the boundary between the two universes.
It is no coincidence that the literary translation of the term “beacon” it is “lighthouse”, because of the potential light that these tools can throw illuminating some aspects of our daily life.
This new technology reveals itself rather economical both in terms of installation and activation, around 20 dollars per location, as well as in terms of energetic consumptions for the devices that receive the information, for the time being smartphones and tablets, in the future smartwatches, digital glasses and who knows what else.
The last frontier is that of the “Estimote Stickers“, small sticky beacons, almost imperceptible which can be placed anywhere in order to allow the construction of uncountable virtual paths, unlimited situations in which our smartphones, smartwatches, google glasses,… receive additional information from internet.
The telepass, the ATM, the GPS receiver, the road signs on the highway, are all the precursors of this new symbiotic generation of tools. A surplus of digital information in a position to follow us step by step which is to be added to our social network. System that for some years already mixes real friendships with virtual friends met online.
Will we succeed in gaining from this jungle of virtual information?
Providing today useful information to blind persons is certainly an excellent result. Contrariwise, it is more difficult to hypothesize the effects of this bombardment of digital information on the next generations. There is a possible risk after all, useless to deny it, and that is ending up focusing a great part of our attention on digital contents, distracting it from concrete natural events.
But what I am sure of is that this technology will make enormous strides in the coming years because stimulated by the trading world which sees in the possibility of monitoring closely the consumer/user, the best way to incentivize a purchase.
We will become many Tom Thumbs 2.0 and in the deep forest we will switch on our smartphones and, thanks to the estimotes stickers positioned on every tree, we will easily find our way back home…

The power of icons and symbols

Sometimes to describe innovation needs to take some back steps in order to analyse consolidated habits, to assert the importance of our instincts, to set the correct attention toward our past.
So a premise is needed; a premise whose double misfortune is to be born in a blog, and therefore to be extremely synthetic and to have the undersigned as author.
For thousands of years, man was exposed to the elements, dangers, all sorts of traps and enemies of any kind, including himself, but he always managed to get off. This has been possible thanks to a mixture of intelligence, common sense and attention toward everything that surrounds us . He tried all along, and often succeeded in taking advantage from events, in transforming the environment and the resources at his disposal on his purposes, albeit not always praiseworthy.
The use of senses, the animal perception of danger applied to the ability to find new solutions, has opened us uncountable ways, it allowed us to reach the level of life we live today.
The progressive increase of social complexity has only partially calmed our instincts, our need to attentively observe all that surrounds us, to seize the signs, to perceive new stimulus, to shape our present and future. Such abilities made us first shamans then popes, physicians, explorers, scientists. Such abilities taught us how to dress, in other words changed us.
We became conscious of us as Homo Sapiens with a history behind, our own history, rich of totem, of altars, of fashions, of new geometries, of imposing architectures, of innovative status, but also of symbols and icons.
Progress has never obstructed the value of symbols, whose significance went hand in hand with culture, democracy, innovation although sometimes anachronistically and even dramatically.
Web we are living today, the new virtual dimension, follows this indelible trace placing icons and symbols on a par, at least on a par with services and contents.
The simplest way to recognize an expert internet user is to verify his knowledge and skills in using symbols. The expert internet user knows that “that” symbol implies “that” service.
The icon, the symbol correlated to the service becomes the service itself, whose success passes also for the liking process, the fondness and the empathy that internet audience succeed in showing towards what it believes to represent its own image.
The first example is that of feed RSS, the subscription service, practically always free where news and contents on line come to be available directly on your own browser (or on a feed reader). The orange icon, symbol of the feed rss service, draws immediately my attention, it pushes me to click, to select the feed, to evaluate my true interest for that type of information.
Another example of a widely diffused symbol on web is the “I like“, true social brand, synonymous of “easy”, “immediate”, “sharable”, “attractive”, an outright global-popular phenomenon. It is not a coincidence if one of the most web popular symbols evokes a symbol and an ancient use, that of the gladiatorial judgment in the ancient Rome, this testifies how the use of icons and symbols is strongly deep-rooted in our history.
A small note taken from Wikipedia: the upward thumb (or horizontal), suggested the gladiator’s death and not his survival, over time we transformed an extremely negative symbol in a positive one, so symbols evolve and adapt themselves to the times.
Crossing a forest of symbols in which the birdie of Twitter chippers, we find useful the arrows that allow us to continue (our navigation), a lens that allows us to search better, an “X”  to get away from there, an envelope to write to a friend, a small printer to get an useless copy on paper, a gear to refine our research, a Shopping cart to buy what we like and so on….
Allow me to set two other important examples: the Apps, applications for mobile smartphone and tablet, are symbols themselves, you can use them by selecting the frame with their symbol; the application of a social contribution toward the network of friends or colleagues takes place by selecting the symbol corresponding to social network, a true global logo. In all these cases, it is a matter of symbols turned to be habitual for the internet user, easy to select, fast to use, coherent in behaviors, often similar to other symbols or real objects used in the past.
There is nothing new to be learned, just keep counting on our senses, our sensibility and intelligence so as to recognize and use the new services. Once more we find ourselves into the jungle, into a virtual one, and all we have to do is consign ourselves to our observation capacity to come out at our best.
I conclude this brief article with two suggestions. The first one is for users: let yourselves capture by symbols, colors, images and forms, just click and experience. The second one is for the web designers: do not underestimate the power and primordial charm of symbols. I have personally managed portals where the substitution of textual contents with symbols has determined unthinkable increases in terms of access and use of services.  I also invite you to not underestimate the application of simple solutions, do not hesitate to use colors on your blog or site or portal, leave the right space to images, do not use only the description, furthermore if it is a large one, this cannot be enough for a new web.
In the “virtual world”, the icon represents the most efficient way of a service presentation, the great web audience doesn’t see or expect something else.
A good content and a good service, must be sustained by a symbol, a clear connotative expression of the service itself.
Collaborate and participate, but do not forget to do it using icons and symbols.

The website popularity, an ephemeral love between algorithms and culture

Imagine putting all our personal and cultural references in a large jar: photographs, books, notes, stories, poems, birthday and Christmas greeting cards, drawings made by our children when they were little and so on and so forth.
Imagine that, just after filling the jar to the top, we realize that the mouth of the jar is a bit tight, and therefore we can pull out only one object at a time. At this point we have to overcome the impasse and establish a picking rule, otherwise all our valuable objects will become unreachable.
Well, this is what happened on the Internet! Network has become our multimedia knowledge container, but not only that. So, while we were putting our information into the global container, we discovered that without the appropriate tools for research and without a network of relationship, the information was often unreachable. After all, how many times in the past the treasure map has been lost and with it the hidden treasure?
Today’ success of a search engine is a direct consequence of its ability to collect and display information from the network, which means, as I metaphorically mentioned above, to have the jar completely full. The search engine has to show this information in a logical sequence, but above all, it has to guess the user’s request basing its research on the few terms received from the user.
The increase number of information along with the increase number of people on network have placed on top the best web search engines, able to satisfy our demands less than in a few instants.  Over the top are placed the “algorithms“ as well as methods of calculation, everything designed by man and ran obsessively by computer. Computer able to judge by itself the information spread on network.
Among these algorithms probably the most famous is the “pagerank“. This algorithm is able to attach different importance to internet web pages according to their popularity, or, rather to the number of sites relative to these pages. Higher will be the number of sites that link to “our” web page, greater will be our popularity.
Today there are many other intelligent algorithms that analyze “our” web page from the point of view of contents expounded, from every single term used, from the frequency with which we update our content, from the profundity of navigation expressed by our portal / site / blog, from the interest expressed by the social network, from the cleverness of writing our page (title, subtitle, …), etc …
As happens in the real world, also happens in the virtual world: to reach a high popularity, means hard work. We must be well known by lots of network people therefore clicked, linked, posted, mentioned … And of course, same as in the real world, upkeep our popularity is extremely difficult, that requires efficiency and talent even for the most tenacious ones.
However sometimes the popularity generates further popularity without new strategies application … being on  the “front page” means being featured on the “global showcase“, selected and mentioned, and this will increase our ranking, as a result, our new location will bring us to the fore rising our ranking higher and higher.
The popularity on web, the climax of every blogger or writer, dependents on a selection process extremely rational, algorithmic, I dare say similar to that described by Darwin, a process of evolutionary selection, that assigns notoriety to those already famous, but not less interested in new, original, lasting forms of information and culture. We talk about a rational cynical process, unceasingly active, open to innovation, a “mutant”, sometimes complicated sometimes incredibly superficial.
Given these premises, who knows what kind of love will blossom between the ranking algorithms and our culture: a true one or just an ephemeral one?