Die Philosophen - Festhalten und Loslassen im Kontext des Digitalen



Die zweite Monographie der Serie "Die Philosophen kommen" von Marion Fuglewicz-Bren erscheint im September 2014. "In Anlehnung an Band eins kommen auch hier in essayistischen Interviews Denker, Intellektuelle und Persönlichkeiten aus Wirtschaft und Medien zu Wort, die mit ihren jeweiligen interdisziplinären Ansätzen oder Festivalprogrammen dazu beitragen, dass philosophische Denkansätze und Lebensentwürfe einen größeren Stellenwert in unserer Gesellschaft erlangen. Autorin Marion Fugléwicz-Bren: „Das Nachfolgebuch „Die Philosophen kommen - The Next Chapter“ - ist inhaltlich weiter gefasst und umfasst etwa auch das „Neue Denken", dem man heute bei charismatischen Menschen oft begegnet."

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Alte und neue Inhalte – können wir das Web heute schon verstehen? – Festhalten und Loslassen im Kontext des Digitalen

Florian Brody denkt im Interview darüber nach, wie hilflos der „gemeine Archivar“ dem Zerrinnen alter und neuer Inhalte gegenüber steht. Er lebt als Wiener seit den 1990er Jahren im Silicon Valley und entwickelt kreative Marketing-Strategien für Start-Ups. Gemeinsam mit dem Amerikaner Bob Stein erfand und entwickelte er 1991 bei der einstmaligen Kult-Firma Voyager die ersten elektronischen Bücher. Bob Stein meinte damals zu mir in einem Interview: „Multimedia is like Sex, you have to experience it“. Brody hat seine Erfahrung aus Archiven und Bibliotheken mit seiner Arbeit an neuesten Technologien immer verbunden und beschäftigt sich seit vielen Jahren mit der Frage, wie sich alte und neue Medien zueinander verhalten und ineinander übergehen und welche Brüche dabei entstehen.

Philosophische Erkenntnis wird gegenüber vermitteltem Wissen eine noch größere Vorrangstellung einnehmen, so Brody und „... durch die Verfügbarkeit von einem weitaus breiteren Methodenspektrum unterschiedlichster Ansätze wird es einerseits zu einem tieferen globalen Verständnis, andererseits aber auch wieder zu lokalen Sektenbildungen kommen“.

[...]  Digitale Medien tendieren auch in ihrer Archivierbarkeit zu binären Entscheidungsmodellen: Alles oder nichts. Die mannigfaltigen Methoden technischer Reproduzierbarkeit und die Trennbarkeit von Information und Trägermedium führen zu einer kurzzeitigen Illusion, alles sei beliebig oft kopierbar, neu speicher- und aufhebbar. Beim Versuch „das Web“ – recte: Die Inhalte von Webseiten – festzuhalten, indem man sie punktuell früher auf CD-ROM, derzeit auf große Massenspeicher, demnächst auf – was auch immer – kopiert, zeigt sich schnell die Problematik des Unterfangens; wenn zwar viele Buchstaben und Informationen, nicht aber die relevanten Inhalte wieder abrufbar sind. [...]

The Expanded Books Project

Michael Cohen's partially autobiographical review of the "The Birth of the Ebookappeared on TidBITS  in slightly different form from the original article published in The Magazine in December 2013. Voyager-frameI had the chance to work with Michael during my tenure at The Voyager Company 1989–1992 and his expertise in literature combined with an uncanny ability to catch inaccuracies and errors in books was an amazing complement to the truly eclectic group of team members at Voyager. The way Michael describes my initial contribution to the Expanded Books Project sheds a light:

"Florian Brody, a loquacious Austrian with a background in computer science, film, and linguistics, had put a couple of pages of “The Sheltering Sky” on the PowerBook, turned it on its side, and asserted, “This looks like a book!” You could almost see cartoon lightbulbs flaring over people’s heads."

 The time at Voyager not only shaped my future work, it also allowed me to contribute to the creation of the first electronic books at a time when a laptop was a curiosity. We showed it to one of the many authors we talked to and after reviewing he asked for the price of such a device - it was over $2000, a lot of money for the time. He commentedEB_interface that this may be a lot of money but probably justifiable for such a book, not being aware that he would also get a fully functional computer "for free".

Sometimes late 1988 I got my hands on an Apple Scanner, a wonderful device good for almost nothing with its 4-bit deep images but great to generate input for early OCR software. HyperCard was just becoming the development platform of choice for the multimedia on the Mac. I still recall the day I sheltering Skyscanned the pages of Paul Bowles' Sheltering Sky and looked at them on the 13 inch screen of the most expensive computer I had ever bought (some $12,000 - over $23,000 in 2013 money), flipped through the pages, excited about the ability to go back to a page rather than randomly scrolling around. Page consistency – the ability to find something at the same place you saw it the last time – is one of the essential elements of eBooks compared to word processor (old terminology) files. There is a reason why we gave up scrolls for codices for the most part some 1000 years ago. (The Torah Scrolls: exceptio probat regular.) The issue of the loss of location in digital document merits a separate blog entry (forthcoming).

It was late in the evening and I had this HyperCard stack with some 60 pages of The Sheltering Sky. I needed to share my newest finding. I had met Bob Stein briefly at the 3rd Microsoft CD-ROM Conference in Seattle in March of 1988 when the Apple CD-ROM drive was introduced. As I supported Apple Austria, driving their multimedia efforts, I had a highly valued – and extremely expensive – AppleLink account with the coveted handle of A.MM (for Austria Multimedia). There was nobody I could call and share my excitement so I sent the whole stack to Mr. Stein in California and went to bed. Next morning I found a response in my inbox if I would be interested to come to California and build this book.

I spent a long summer in 1989 and then two years 1990–1992 at Voyager on Pacific Coast Highway in  Santa Monica in a building that was neither earthquake safe (= low rent) nor had it decent power or heating (save your files every 2 minutes as the next power failure due to circuit breaker overload from under-table heaters) but we had daily lunch cooked by a South African professional dancer, sunset calls over the Intercom (don't miss the green flash) and boogie boards for the rare lunch breaks.


We initially published Jurassic Park, Alice in Wonderland and the Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy for the launch at MacWorld with the dinosaur sounds in Jurassic Park being the most loved feature. "Multimedia" was surely the way to go. It was up to Voyager to turn the "nice add-ons" into media elements that truly expanded the book and the work Michael did on Macbeth. With hardware as well as software no longer available, it will be a museum project to see Macbeth again: "When shall we three meet again? — In thunder, lightning, or in rain? — When the hurlyburly's done, — When the battle's lost and won. (Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 1).

Thanks to Michael Cohen, The Magazine and TidBITS for republishing this article and make it available to be found online.

Michael - if you're interested in presenting Macbeth again - I may be able to find a venue.


What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?

"And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?' (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll) - the question gains a new dimension, now that eBook readers reach the price of a decent paper book. That is what a hard-bound book did cost when books became widely available to the general public - a lot of money but somewhat affordable to many. Given the price/value ratio of electronic stuff compared to wood-based stuff, digital books will soon be cheaper than books on paper which will result in books on paper becoming even more expensive. We are still in the "imitation phase" - we produce electronic books that imitate books on paper - once we get beyond this phase - the question Paper or Plastic will no longer be relevant - in the same way Theater or Film? Radio or TV? Film or TV? Painting or Photo are no longer of relevance.

Digging for the disintegrative nature of digital technologies

Research shows that most people search for their own name first when coming across a new search engine. I'm no exception and for years I've had the plan to create a definitive search results page of everything that comes up when I search for my self. Not so much because anyone may be interested in a comprehensive list, more as a means to explore how new, alternative search engines find different stuff. Today I tried deepdyve, a search engine that justifies its existence "because traditional search engines do not deliver the quality results that information-savvy consumers and professionals need." [source no longer available] For $45 per month (that's $540 per year, more than many people pay for CATV) you get deepdyve Pro, that offers "Dynamic Grouping, Visual Clustering and Venn Diagrams". The interface offers advanced search but does not recognize "Florian Brody" as a text string and thus returns 90% irrelevant stuff. Their Blog has an interesting mélange of content - most recently an entry on the "unbunding of content".

I found one critical commentary on a paper I gave in 1995 in a research journal that requires a subscription, but deepdyve offers a detailed view with the complete paper "Contradicion versus Convergence" by Charles Tashiro: "Whether or not we agree with Brody's late-Romantic argument, it seems strangely out of keeping with the disintegrative nature of digital technologies, their capacity to change and transform, even if completely in keeping with the formalist rhetoric underpinning many of the ideas and presentations at the conference".

Today - 14 years later - I'm still right ;-) and hoping that this will change soon. Search engines on the other side have not caught up with the writings of the world and possibly never will, never should.

Reading about Electronic Books on Paper

Mitch Ratcliffe posted a status analysis on eBooks - The first step of a long change on his ZD Net column. I read most of it immediately after I received Mitch's email with the URL in the afternoon. We have been talking about eBooks longer than most people know they exist, so I owe him a response. I read the first seven comments on the ZD Net blog and started to ponder on the medium / technology / platform question as well as the longlevity of the printed word, commented on by a certain Yagotta B. Kidding (nomen est omen). Books had their long-term and short-term survival problems, mostly from fire and acid in the paper. Many books from the "modern phase" of the 70s when the IBM Selectric together with Copiers became the publishing technology of choice together with most of the stuff created on laser printers will be gone within 100 years. The glue that keeps the carbon particles of the Xerographic process on the paper lets go and the content falls off the page. Torah Scroll

Maybe eBooks are not books in a similar way Scrolls are not books as we know them today. Scrolls were abandoned over 1000 years ago as they were not practical to use and paper was hard to produce in long rolls. Also page consistency - the fact that a certain word is always on the same page to be read and remembered [add a reference to the ars memorativa here] - was not part of scrolls. Now we're back to scrolling, soft scrolling, fast scrolling and computer mice with one or more scroll wheels with click-wheel capabilities. Scolls have their place, today mostly in Schul, the Jewish Synagoge, as Sefer Torah, a copy of the Five Books of Moses created under extremely strict rules and written by hand.

eBooks have to repeat the same steps handwritten and printed books had to go through and get out of the early stage of scrolls. In 1989 when we started to work on the Expanded Books Project, page consitency as well as a means to help the reader understand where she is in the book were essential elements, They are still disregarded in today's eBook attempts.

With no way to take notes on the Web site and mark up passages, I gave in and printed Mitch's text to fully digest and respond.

Come back and read the next installment in the next few days. And definitely read Mitch's text.