In my dissertation I pointed to three areas of concern. How do they look from the perspective of today?
A first issue I was concerned about was the specific requirements of screen reading. Clearly the texts and images had to be designed so that their length and width could be read easily on the size of the screen. Short paragraphs were therefore desirable, and long and complex discussions were ill-suited to the format — which brings us back to the issue of what a scholarly monograph, or indeed a Doctoral dissertation, is supposed to contain.
Besides that, computer screens are not the best surfaces on which to read texts and appreciate any kind of substantial argument. Apart from the (too) often-lamented fact that they cannot be taken into the bathtub, screens also make it difficult to appreciate the materiality of a text and argument, as you can do with books. Moreover, one commentator about electronic theses asked rightly:
'who wants to do their research staring into a flickering screen? I do that all day for [my employer].';
This was not a single voice. Another reader wrote to me that looking at my work on screen filled his eyes with tears within three minutes. I do not wish to downplay any physical damage human eyes can take from the flickering of the screen, but most who discovered and read my monograph appear to have been well set up and accustomed to screen reading. In any case, this is a welcome reminder of the importance of reading strategies and reading techniques, and how the new electronic media challenge existing habits and conventions. A lot of them will have to change if e-publishing is to succeed at large.
One commentator stressed an interesting, particular, advantage of screen reading:
'The electronic format, I think, gives a "freshness" to graphics and layout, so revisiting will be enjoyable rather than a chore."
A related problem I identified originally was to do with the size of pages and the time it can take to load them, especially using slow modems and/or network lines. Although this problem still applies in principle, it has since become less pressing, mainly due to improving networks and hardware. I have not had any complaint about excessive file sizes at all, but the great majority of my pages are no bigger than 20kb text (plus images of circa 5-50kb each) and even the largest page, my bibliography, is 'only' 180kb.
© Internet Archaeology
Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004