Electronic Books and Digital Information Systems

There is much to be said about how the electronic book is shifting the way we access knowledge in comparison to the capabilities of the print book. Amongst this discussion is the thought that “the eBook must promise something more than the form that it remediates: it must offer what can be construed as a more immediate, complete or authentic experience for the reader” (Bolter, p.80). In chapter 5 of Writing Space, Bolter (2001) looks at the evolution of the printed book as it takes on a digital form. Bolter’s investigation targets the electronic adaptation of the textbook as it applies to research. As the amount of eBooks grows at exponential rates, we are continuously redefining the way we interact with print. There are now new expectations for the availability of print because of technology.

The portability of a book continues to make it relevant and appreciated by a large population of current day readers. The book does not require an electrical charge, nor does it rely on additional accessories to function for restricted periods of time. The book is a durable tool compared to many of its technological counterparts; it can be dropped without damaging the overall function. To many people who continue to believe in its timeless practicality, the book can provide a visual and tactile experience that cannot be replaced by digital technology. The book can be left at a bus stop with little monetary loss and it can be passed on and shared in a way electronic books cannot. The most limiting aspect of the book is its physical containment of knowledge. In a social context, the book’s inability to connect to other evolving information parallels the emergence of hypertext.

As with any technology, the eBook is constantly shifting the way we approach learning and our expectations of the availability and overall quality of information. Bolter (2001) focuses his discussion on the ways in which digital text can be organized. Counter to the goals of information distribution today, the print book implies a certain limit to knowledge. At present, knowledge is said to be more of a living entity, having the ability to be reconfigured by current research. Bolter (2001) explains the way information is organized and stored “controls other constructions of knowledge and the contemporary technology of writing” (Bolter, p.84). The contemporary technology he refers to here is hypertext. The linkages made between digitalized literature via hypertext goes beyond capacity of the tangible book.

Perhaps the greatest setback associated with print books is the availability to gather a sufficient amount of academic resources to conduct valid research. Digital books are sorted under more than a single subject heading, increasing the likelihood that a researcher will find more specific information that applies to their area of focus. The use of hyperlink has made it possible to create new digital links between eBooks and other academic resources. For university students, the days of limited resources are a thing of the past, because resource availability is no longer linked to the amount of books in a library. The increase in availability of digitalized information could be said to enrich the accuracy of student research today. Bolter (2001) suggests that the growing network of resources should be organized in an encyclopaedic format that facilitates subject-based searches providing hyperlinks to other resources as well as websites. Alexander (2008) proposes that individuals could contribute to the organization by tagging literacy using platforms available through Web 2.0. Tagging naturally gives “urgency to further research” and opens up possibilities for learners to “pursue multiple inquiries in rapid and almost sequential sequence” (Alexander, p.156).

To maintain a spot in the scheme of innovative technologies, the eBook must continue to offer more than what the book is capable of providing to the reader. As mentioned above, the eBook deviates from a linear thinking, a trait that distinguishes it as a tool associated to 21st century learning. Products, such as the Kobo, Sony, Box and Apple eReaders have changed the nature in which we read a book but further systems will be required that continue to organize information. We are living in text heavy generation where our abilities to read and write have increased due to the technological tools that are readily available to us. The eBook gives multileveled readers the opportunity to interact and have a more personalized experience with texts that they wouldn’t have otherwise read. It is hard to predict how our conceptualization and usage of the book will evolve in the future. In schools today, electronic textbooks provide links to virtual activities that augment learning experiences. When thinking about all of the print materials that are currently utilized by teachers, I wonder how these materials can continue to compete with the rising influence of multimodal learning. Bolter (2001) predicts a textual environment where electronic books will improve accessibility and lead to deeper intellectual understandings of information available through the World Wide Web.


Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory into practice. 47(2), 150-60. Retrieved November 20, 2012 from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00405840801992371

Bolter, D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Holler, M. (2012). Parents Choose Print Over iPad for Kids Books | Strollerderby. [Photograph] Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2012/09/23/avoiding-kids-books-on-your-ereader-youre-not-alone/

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4 Responses to Electronic Books and Digital Information Systems

  1. Sheila says:

    I was reading some other research posted that indicated that reading on the screen was not as easy or rapid as reading on the page. After reading your post I wonder if this is a learned behaviour – a question of reading habits. Perhaps young people who grow up reading on the screen will find it much easier to track and understand through this medium – it will be interesting to see the research on this.

  2. sheza says:

    As an avid reader, student and educator I welcome the transition from printed book to ebook. I grew up reading screens and I now actually find it difficult to read off a page.
    When I read for pleasure, I like to read in bed and find that holding a book is rather bulky and uncomfortable. It is much easier to lay down with my Blackberry Playbook with its built-in Kindle!
    I have also downloaded Kindle on my Mac and actually did our Ong readings for the course off the program. I had the option to buy Ong’s text from the UBC Bookstore for a ridiculous price, or rent it from Amazon for the duration of our course for just $10! The added benefit was that I could access the reading from any Kindle application – whether it was on my Playbook, Mac or even a regular computer – I could log on to my Kindle account and use their web-based Kindle to read the chapters. My bookmarks were saved, as were my highlights and notes. The best part was that I could look up the definition of words as I read by double clicking on them – a definition box would pop up over the page and I could carry on without having to leave my reading space.
    And finally, as a teacher I prefer receiving student work online. One reason is so that I can check it for plaigarism – a problem all too common in schools today. Secondly, so that I can use the “track changes” function on Word and send the document back to the students without using red pen all over their work. I find that the feedback is more constructive and less destructive this way. I can also read and think much better on screen now than I can on paper. It may be sad, but true!

    Thanks for your thorough analysis on the e-book. It was a great read!


  3. mckay says:

    I touched on eBooks in my own Final Project in touched on how the format of one specific eBook offered less flexibility in reading paths than the paper copy. Look for the section ‘Irony in the Digital Edition’.

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