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This is an often used term to describe books -- anything written on paper, usually. The term associates the medium (ink on paper) with something large, heavy, and somehow "bad" (because making DeadTrees is a PollutionOfTheEnvironment).

Information on DeadTrees is not easily processed electronically, making it often inaccessible -- to blind people, to people living far away from libraries.

On the other hand, DeadTrees are solid, there is an established science of preserving them, storing them, perusing them. Electronic information perishes together with the hardware used to read it from a medium: How many people still have tape equipment at home? How many decades will CDs remain readable in everyday households?

For example, the LaserDisc? version of the Domesday Book, make in 1985, is now unreadable. The paper original, some 900+ years old, can still be consulted at the British Library.

See also JargonFile:DeadTreeVersion, WhatIsaMedium, IsMediaTechnologyOrContent.

I don't think it's particularly meaningful to claim that paper is an "interface." It's too vague. Paper media manifest in various forms, such as books (aka codex) to posters. It's like claiming computers are a medium, but it's clear from OtherHypermedia that there are many more specific media that operate via computers. Computers and paper are perhaps transports, but not media. -- SunirShah

Indeed, there is some difficulty in that. If we are talking about one particular book, however, such as the bible, and enumerate the means how to read it, you will find that paper and computers are not comparable:

This seems to indicate that there is just one way to read a printed version of a text while there are many "modes" available when reading an electronic version of the same text. Therefore I claim that paper is a medium while computers as a whole are not; the web, however, is a medium. Perhaps we need to look at WhatIsaMedium. -- AlexSchroeder

Strictly speaking, most hypermedia is actually more constrained than paper. With hypermedia, you don't have tmesis (cf. WhatIsTmesis) like you do with a codex for instance. Indeed, most people read the Bible in particular non-linearly, so that was an terrible example for your case. With hypermedia, you are limited to read what the code allows you to do and when, whereas paper is much more free permitting you to access the text at any place. Consider that it is nearly impossible to jump to the end of an adventure game. If there is no link, there is no access.

Also, while it's clear that paper and computers aren't equivalent, they remain comparable. You just made a comparison here, for instance.

These thoughts are judiciously stolen from CybertextPerspectivesOnErgodicLiterature by EspenAarseth?. -- SunirShah

My take is this: there are different ways to present information via paper, those being words, drawings, comics (combining both drawings and words) and little records placed on cardboard like used to be on cereal boxes back when I was 7. (I'm sure there's more, but I can't think of any.) So, words, pictures, comics and sound are different paper-based media. On computers, you can have any of those, plus those tied together (pictures tied with audio is video, and whether the pictures move or not is largely a matter of technology). I don't really truly believe that computer-mediated is functionally all that different. Using the above example,

Buy a Bible with a Concordance; look up word in Concordance, which lists by scripture where what word is (rudimentary hyperlink); go to that chapter, looking for the verse (indexing) and for the word (scanning is sometimes called vgrep or visual grep by geeks like me).

The primitive actions of hypermedia are there, but they are not computer-mitigated, so they are not fast, so HyperMedia seems like a new media. But, really, just as bluegrass is "folk music on overdrive", Hypermedia so far has been standard media on overdrive. --DaveJacoby

A difference between paper and computers, in media terms, is that the former is pretty much fixed and static in it's various instantiations. Yes, you can get a Bible with a concordance, you can get it with pictures ... but it either does or it does not, and that's the end of it. All the different ways that paper can be used pretty much stop once you commit to paper -- rarely does it wriggle and writhe in your hands changing shape and presentation and functionality. Compare computers, other than the super dumb e-book variety, and you have not a medium but a tool for presentatin. The one computer can be reused many times in many different ways to present different information (read a hypertext, watch a movie, grep a store, etc); while a paper based object can only be used in the methods which are instantiated - read it, look at it, feel it, heft it, burn it. Yes, you can do things to it, but that is external to the paper instantiation, and not intrinsic. -- EricScheid

You have to be careful with this fallacy. It's common amongst literary theorists and critics who try to find the essence of the new electronic textual media. They often fall over into fantasy when the reality is much the opposite.

First, paper can be very flexible. Raymond Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes demonstrates how reconfigurable text can be. This book is effectively a sonnet machine, capable of producing 10e14 poems. ChooseYourOwnAdventureNovels are also examples of codex-based hypertext. For examples similar to wikis' universal editing aspect, we have EarlyPoetryAndWiki, WittenbergDoor, and the YaleWall are examples of this. The real limiting part of paper is not the atoms it is formed out of, but of literary convention. Literature is generally confined to the novel format, and this is largely due to Aristotle's Poetics. None of that particularly limits the role of reader interaction, which may or may not be involved in the work directly.

Secondly, electronic media can be far more constraining than paper media. This is the same result that LawrenceLessig discovered in CodeAndOtherLawsOfCyberspace; instead of being liberating, digital networks are actually more restrictive. This is because the code provides both a perfect barrier that you can't get around and an imperfect flexibility that limits the number of avenues you might try. With paper, the reader usually has the means to subvert the structure the author has set up. You can read the last page of a detective novel if you wish.

Further, due to the nature of hypertext, the very act of tmesis is disrupted just by searching for links. Tmesis is the reader's tendency and ability to skip, as one often does with a boring paragraph or with detective novels. A cleverly/poorly constructed hypertext can make links so well hidden that a casual skim is not sufficient to discern them, thus frustrating the reader's attempt to proceed. One can further restrict the reader (as is common on pr0n sites) by quizzing her on what's read before allowing her to proceed.

So, before we proclaim that electrons are the end-all liberating force in literature, I think we should step back and appreciate that all electrons do is empower the work's creator in different (but not necessarily superior) ways, much like marble enables an artist in three dimensions instead of two. -- SunirShah

Related term (sort of): DeadWeb



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