Zaid on the irony of format:

“Books can be skimmed. In this sense, only paintings are superior to books.

A film or television show, although it is visual, cannot be taken at a glance, like a painting. Nor can it be skimmed. It is possible to lose concentration and be distracted, but not move ahead to see what comes next, flip backward to understand something better, or pause for a moment to think.

Programs recorded on videocassettes or DVDs do allow the viewer to scroll back and forth, but exploring them isn’t easy…One becomes impatient exploring the files of a computer; it isn’t easy to get a quick idea of the content.

It is easier to find things in books — which is ironic, after Marshall McLuhan’s declaration of the obsolescence of “linear writing.” Nothing requires more “linear reading” than television, tapes, and records. Unlike books (or paintings) they can’t be taken in all at once. They hearken back to the texts of antiquity, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had to be rolled from one rod to the other in order to be read.

This new-media disadvantage is evident even in direct-mail advertising. A reader may give a printed pamphlet two seconds of attention before he discards it, but there is less chance that the recipient of an unsolicited CD will load and consider it: that would take more than two seconds. Similarly, even at the height of the paperless era, many people prefer to work with printouts rather than onscreen files. But most ironic of all is the printed instruction booklet that comes with so-called cutting-edge electronic equipment. No book requires electronic instructions explaining how to read it.

Books are portable. The advantage of the book is that all the other media require two steps to be read: one step to transform the mechanical, magnetic, optical, or electronic signal (received or taped) into something that in turn (the second step) is legible by a human being. Whereas the book is directly legible…

…The true comparison, however, isn’t between the many volumes of an encyclopedia and a single disc, but between the encyclopedia and a complete set of electronic equipment that is not solely dedicated to the reading of that disc.” -Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books.

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