Walkability

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One of the biggest reasons we chose to live on the base is for the walkability that it provides.

The US is extremely dependent on cars. We need cars to get everywhere. In most neighborhoods in the US you even have to drive to go to the gym in order to exercise.

But when I moved to China, I walked everywhere for four years. Sometimes I took the bus, but often, I found that if I planned ahead (about an hour) I could walk downtown. This was a great thing to discover because I studied Mandarin twice a week downtown, and sometimes those classes were during the infamous 4:30-6:30 rush hour. I found that by walking instead of taking the bus I usually got home around the same time as I would if I had taken the bus. Occasionally I rented a bike, but for the most part I walked everywhere I went the whole time I lived there.

When we moved to Japan, I had the option of driving, and did sometimes, but often would walk to the train stop or the bus stop and would take public transit. I had a bike at this point, and often rode my bike, but still ended up walking much more than I did in the US.

On base, with a toddler, I actually find it much easier to walk or bike on the base than to put my son in a car seat, get him out put him back in and struggle with him in a parking lot. To be honest, walking is just easier.

Growing up, I always walked or rode my bike to school unless it rained. I hope someday in the future we’ll be able to still walk or bike with our kids to their schools.

HBO Streaming

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HBO just announced that it will offer streaming next year: no cable connection required.

This is a possible game-changer in TV connection in the US. Cable has long dominated the television industry, offering more and more stations with less and less actual useful content. For years now, it has seemed that the more stations you had, the less likely there would be that anything interesting would actually be on those stations.

We got rid of cable and haven’t missed it. Between Netflix, Hulu and iTunes, there really hasn’t been anything we have missed. But I have wondered how long it would be until the TV stations realized they were in trouble.

A la carte stations and shows make it easier to tailor your TV habits. Even better would be (as iTunes has though rather expensive) subscriptions to just the particular shows you want to watch, tailoring everything to individual needs.

It’s a shift in the industry, yes. But a shift in a good direction. Hopefully other TV stations and TV shows will follow suit.

Urban Digital Libraries

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When I was a kid I used to love the idea of a house filled with books. There would be bookshelf upon bookshelf in the house much like Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast.

I’m now trying to get rid of more of the paper books we do have and taper down more, getting rid of bookshelves. It’s not that I don’t love the books – it’s that space is a premium.

It’s a modern conundrum – you can have a larger house and more space or you can have a walkable neighborhood. But rarely both. So we opted for the smaller “house” (one side of a duplex).

So a library with shelves of books – not going to happen, as nice as that would be to look at. I have completely abandoned two and a half entire paper libraries in three countries already, much to my frustration, due to weight and space.

It was amazing to me to be able to take a good sized library with me when I taught in Mongolia for two months. That trip and the two months I spent in Nagasaki right after, teaching as well, revolutionized my opinion on digital books. In Nagasaki in particular, I lived in an apartment that was about 100 square feet. There was no space for any extra books.

The truth is, whether or not it ends up that paper or digital is a person’s preference, the convenience of digital is slowly (and quickly) changing the face of the literary industry as a whole.

Mobility

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One of the biggest reasons that the people who prefer digital reading have stated for the preference is mobility.

Note the picture above – which is easier – carrying ten or more textbooks, (which I remember doing regularly on journeys back and forth from China, Japan and Thailand) or this one device?

Beyond that, if you lose a book or it gets delayed which happens occasionally in transit, which was why I as a paranoid grad student used to pack my textbooks in my carryon, you are stuck. Digital books however can be loading to multiple devices, diversifying the chances of loss and the potential expenses of having to rebuy a book.

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While at A&M University I was glad that most of my textbooks were available on the Kindle. Considering I wrote a papers more than once in the Singapore Airport on my iPad – the possibility of completing a program with anything else just wouldn’t have been feasible.

According to statistics, urbanization and migration are on the upswing, both resulting from increased globalization and industrialization. This is unsurprising.

The cost of shipping, especially when the move is temporary has started to expedite the mobile classes purchase of digital devices.

Practically speaking then, the more mobile and urban society gets, the more likely the digitalization of literacy is to continue.

Is this good, bad or neutral? Probably some of all. Like most things, it’s difficult and way too soon to say.

Increased mobility is likely to fuel more digital book and publication innovation. One of the most useful future features added to this digital/commuter paradigm is the ability to link up audio and digital books. This means that a commuter can listen to the book they are reading in the car on the way to work, read it digitally on their lunch break, and then listen more on the way home – without having to figure out where their place in the book is, the book will sync automatically. Given long commutes that people often find themselves taking, this would be a great benefit. Amazon is constantly pushing for better user integration, and the possibilities are pretty extensive.

It was also nice while commuting in Japan on the trains (and buses etc) to simply be able to pull up any book I might be reading at home on my iPhone at any point during the trip. Or if I was waiting for something – a long line by myself etc.

Digital books are changing travel and commutes.

The Long View

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Yesterday, I mentioned the Princeton paper that cited the studies done to justify moving from print to digital in test-taking. This study, covering decades of research noted that while digital and print are different mediums they are largely a matter of user preference (see page 19).

The main reason I find this particular paper so interesting is that it was conducted in 2008. This was right after the Kindle had been released (November 2007) and before the ensuing panic hit the print publishers. Amazon (though likely unintentionally) disrupted the publishing world as we knew it. Democratizing publishing in a way that demanded the whole structure change, the Kindle and digital reading in general became a lightning rod of debate.

Here’s breakdown then – testing companies benefit greatly from computerized tests. They are faster, more customizable, easy to maintain and quick to grade. Publishing companies however, lose money when it comes to digital publishing. So testing complained have vested interest in digital and publishing companies have vested interest in print. So the studies coming out pre-digital revolution argued for digital to a greater degree than the studies coming after in large degree because those with vested interest were different.

So what is the answer? It’s probably much more complicated than we will be able to decide in even the next couple decades. From the Princeton paper and others it appears that different parts of the brain are used with each – in other words, each may have their benefits and drawbacks, and we are likely to have a hybrid system of the two for a long time.

Traditionalist will swear by print and Futurists digital, but the cast majority of people are in the middle and will remain so, slightly skeptical of digital, but gradually embracing it over time.

Ethical questions on privacy and copyrights are likely to get more intense and studies will continued to be skewed to prove assumptions.

I suspect however, that just as the switch from oral literary traditions to print didn’t happen instantly and universally, so this change will be a slow one as well, and good or bad we will adapt to it.

Paper vs. Digital

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A recent study just came out warning parents about the dangers of digital reading – it noted that digital readers comprehend much less than paper readers. Pretty terrible news for ereaders – except that the study itself was badly done. “The Elizabeth George study included only two experienced Kindle users,” the study goes on to note that while this is a weakness, it “shouldn’t be assumed that they would do better if they were experienced.”

No. The point of a study is not to make assumptions at all.

Which means neither should we assume that they would perform less well than readers of print. The evidence just isn’t enough to say either way yet. Lesson to public; don’t worry about bad studies. Whenever a study starts with a preconceived notion, it usually doesn’t end with unbiased results.

So what is the truth? Well – that’s a good question. It’s also one that we don’t have an answer to yet – and one that is unlikely to have an answer in our generation.

Because it could just be an issue of comfort – if children grow up with digital all their lives, will they still perform worse on those same tests?

The question though is one that troubles me a bit personally though because to get into most PhD programs I am looking at I have to retake the GRE as my scores are over 10 years old. The tests now are all on the computer in the US. I took it on paper for my MA, but that was back in 2000…..

So if retention really is an issue, have GRE rates gone down? If not then why not? If it does affect retention then should test takers be doing the tests on the computers (environmentally however, taking it on a computer seems so much better). You can still do paper overseas. Should I take it out of the country to get a higher score? (I’m joking, but seriously…..?)

That was why I was asking about age as well – do younger people do better on the computer based GRE than older? How do we make the system which is quickly digitizing (in test taking anyway) more fair?

If a computer GRE is just as good as a paper GRE, then why would there be a difference in long form books? Has that aspect been researched? It seems unlikely that it has not been researched as many tests have been standardized onto computer platform for quite a while now – in fact since before the advent of ereaders. Former research on it, apparently showed that this wasn’t an issue. Princeton studies going back into the late seventies note that while screens too a bit to get used to, there was no great difference in performance. These studies are the basis as to why the major tests such as the GRE moved to being computer based.

That in itself is a red flag – if all the research suddenly changed after then ereaders went mainstream, then why? How much do our assumptions of digital vs. paper play into this?

New Direction

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So now that I am no longer an expat (at least at the moment) and after a year here have become a lot more comfortable back in the US. Not to say I don’t have days…..but they are fewer, and I am guessing while I doubt that those days will ever completely cease, (for the most part) they are fewer are farther in between. Successful reentry (to the best that can be expected).

So that said, I wasn’t sure where exactly to go with this blog for a bit.

I’m moving it more to things that interest me involving culture, technology, urbanization, migration and globalization. Basically how all of that interacts and impacts culture and interactions. When I look back over this blog, I already focused quite a bit on urban transportation and delved a bit into energy, so basically it’s just an expansion on segment that was already there.

There will still be quite a bit of culture, particularly as we travel, but the day to day will look a little different.

So – slightly different focus, but still “Between Worlds.”