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Recently, the collective members of MonkeyWrench Books and Pallaksch Press in Austin, TX published a set of essays in book form called “Impasses.”  Here I intend to respond to the essays and the questions directly and indirectly posed.

There are a great deal of questions presented in the short volume so this will not be an easy nor quick effort.   The volume is an impassioned but far too brief exploration of several important threads.   I’m afraid my responses to the questions will end up with a bunch more questions due to the condensed source material.   Or rather, i have many questions for the authors so i can better understand the ideas and the backdrop for the essays.

Before I dive into the specific essays I have to start at the title of the book and the introduction.   I’m unclear about what is at an impasse and exactly what the functional definition of an impasse is.

In our studied patience we may be able to discuss what others pass over in silence: the generalized impasse which is our situation.  In a moment when the old ways of engaging seem not to be having the anticipated effects, we offer both some meditations on what it means to be where we are and a gesture toward new ways of understanding and resisting.  Each of the five conference pieces sets out from a stalemate where all options seem exhausted and all avenues explored.  For us, to confess to an impasse is not to admit defeat, but rather to acknowledge we have reached a critical point the continual process of thinking and refining our ideas.  If we are still discussing, still figuring out how to speak with and listen to each other, then the spark of resistance is not extinguished.

Here i’m unclear whether the impasses are such that the authors believe there is a real impasse or whether this is just a literary device to inspire discussion.  In one sense they are suggesting there is a general impasse for the overall situation in which they exist. Then later they suggest that instead they are still figuring things out, so not at an impasse.

The title and overall structure suggests that the authors believe there is an actual impasse and that they have a possible method, this book and its questions and the process that generated this book, to move past these impasses.

I’m digging into this because the clear statement of whether there is a real impasse has material impact to the the interpretation of the book.

I hope to engage the authors in a conversation to iron out this initial point.  From there i will proceed to answer, from my perspective, the questions posed at the end of each essay and then dig into the contents of each essay.   I will then make a general response to common themes and overall anarchist philosophy and tooling which is lightly touched on in the appendix and through out each essay.

I believe the spirit of the book and the collective, based on the authors’ website, is about engagement.  Nothing more and nothing less.   In that regard that spirit is alive and well with me.

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You Make the Call – does the amazon recommendation engine have me figured out?  here’s what I saw when I logged in 10 minutes ago:

Amazon Recommends Mimi to Me Me!

Amazon Recommends Mimi to Me Me!

Quiz: Which of these products do I actually own?

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The Amazon Kindle inspired great anticipation in me.  It almost boiled over when I didn’t get one until late January 2008.

Unfortunately, the anticipation didn’t match the reality.  The Kindle isn’t bad.  In fact, it’s really awesome. Really awesome.

What I didn’t expect is how not ready I am to move from books to ebooks.  My experience with books is so profound it’s going to take awhile for me to move on or add on to my reading behavior via the Kindle.

Why?

  • Books don’t break down or need resetting.  It’s not horrible on a Kindle to reset or anything, it’s just you NEVER have to do that with a book.  Try sitting in an airport for 3 hours with no book on hand and your Kindle goes wonky.  Argh!
  • Finding your last place is so easy in a book.  Heck, finding random places in a book is so easy.  On the Kindle you have all sorts of ways to bookmark, store and arrange things but none of them come close to just folding the corner of a page, jotting a side note, leaving the book open
  • Shopping for books is NO FUN and NOT EXCITING AT ALL in the Kindle Store.  For an avid book reader, there’s no greater experience than being among stacks of books – the spines calling out to you, the cover summaries juicing you, the smell intoxicating your mind. 
    • A lot of this is recall from childhood.  And that’s a big factor with Kindle – I have no experiential anchors to it.  Perhaps the next generation, the generation that grows up with a Kindle, will have experiences of the Kindle that will excite them like bookstores do for me now.
    • The electronic store is bore to navigate.  There’s no real discovery process.  It’s so single modal it’s painful.  How can a small print book by a no name author really catch your eye in the kindle store?  there are no color covers, no handwritten reviews from the local bookstore owner,  the preview chapters are not up to you (you can’t just flip to a page and read)
    • Prices, Prices, Prices.  They are just in your face.  Bookstores have prices as the third or fourth piece of data.  Kindle store book pages have 2 or 3 prices on them reminding you that you really don’t want this book as much as you think
  • Ownership – the Kindle experience is very “rental”.  You get no sense of owning the materials.  In fact, if I wanted to bequeth a book to someone or let them borrow it for a day, how can I do that?  Heck, you can barely hand someone the Kindle to say “you have to read this!” and let them take a peak.  They have to know how to use the thing.
  • Page turning as a sign of progress.  I measure my reading progress by page turns.  Kindle has “page buttons” and measures things by “locations”.  It’s not anything like pages and page turning so my sense of progress is way out of whack.
  • Technical books stink on the Kindle.  Images are not good and if you need math or code samples they do not format well on this thing.  Fiction, Paperbacks and essays work well.
  • Note taking is hard.  Typing random thoughts is tedious.  You can’t doodle, circle, cross out, draw arrows or personalize anything in the next.  You can “clip/highlight” and add SMS like notes.  They are search-able, and that’s cool, but i can’t type fast enough to make enough use of them
  • Hand position – i don’t hold a book anything like you need to hold a kindle.  I have tons of nervous habits when i read and holding a Kindle for me is like telling a 2 year old to sit still.  It’s hard to read it for long stretches because of this.
  • Escapism, negative.  Bezos pitched it like it disappeared like a book.  It just doesn’t.  It has a freakin’ keyboard on it.  The page turning is slow/delayed because of the repainting of the eink screen.  It just reminds you that it’s digital and a device.  You can’t just escape into the story because the device is such a new experience and new way of holding this type of information you can’t help but notice everything
  • Worrying about power source and wireless connectivity is weird.  I know, it’s just my own hang up but I am concerned about running of juice.  It’s just like how cell phone conversations are always more terse than land line conversations.  We just know that our phones only last so long so we hurry to say things.  Now I hear to read or only scan.

You see how much behavior, feedback looping and schedules of reinforcement are tied up in my basic experience of reading?  The Kindle is so disruptive to so many of those data points it makes it hard to transition to the Kindle reading experience.  For anyone who knows me, that’s a rarity for me to say about a device.

Again, the Kindle is amazing. 

Why?

  • 100,000 books at your digital fingertips
  • Tiny.  This thing weighs nothing and eliminates backbreaking weight from backpacks
  • Search functions – this thing searches over wikipedia, the books on your device and your notes (that’s a killer app in my opinion)
  • No need to connect to computer – well publicized feature lives up to the hype.  I hate syncing my ipod more than anything, which is why i still buy CDs.  the ipod touch now has wifi store access, and I almost never buy from itunes on the desktop anymore.  Kindle has that experience built right in from the beginning
  • Blogs and Newspapers aggregation.  Heck, I used to love newspapers.  Then I hated how they piled up by the trash can so we stopped getting them.  Now I can get them again without the trash!  Again, another killer app for this thing.  Timely, scanning friendly content does well on the Kindle

No doubt this thing is a winner.  It’s not replacing my physical catalogue anytime soon.  Not because it couldn’t. …….. I’m just not ready.

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