Does Format Impact Interpretation? | Discussion


While reading a of James Gleick’s The Information last semester for a course, one part struck me particularly hard. In discussing the transition from mailing letters and utilizing various messengers to the rise of the telegraph, Gleick points out that “a message had seemed to be a physical object. That was always an illusion; now people needed consciously to divorce their conception of the message from the paper on which it was written.” This reconceptualization of what constitutes a “message” has made me think about what we consider such communication to be today.

10728649In our modern society, the most popular and common form of communication is text messaging via cell phones, especially among the younger generations. However, there is an argument often voiced by the older generation that a text message cannot replace face-to-face communication or handwritten letters. Evidence frequently cited to bolster this argument includes the brevity, increased frequency, lack of proper grammar, and the more casual writing style used when texting. Yet I would counter this argument by emphasizing that change does not necessarily equate to degradation, though the rise of texting certainly comes with its own set of issues. Of course, face-to-face communication is an incredibly valuable aspect of a relationship, but that is not to say that it is the only way people should stay in touch with one another. For instance, without the help of the advanced communication technology we have today, people would not be able to maintain such close relationships with family members and friends who live far away. Moreover, news of current events would no longer be “current,” for it would take much longer to alert nations overseas of what was going on in another country. No matter one’s opinion on the subject, it’s clear that our fast-paced culture rooted in instant gratification could not adequately function at this point without the existence of immediate communication with anyone, at any time, and in almost any place.

Moreover, I think the core of this argument reveals even more interesting and thought-provoking questions: How much of an impact does the medium of communication have on what we are actually trying to communicate? Does it impact the sender, the receiver, or both parties? The materiality and physicality of language is something that we often forget about in our digital culture, but it is actually all around us. Perhaps it would be beneficial to reevaluate Gleick’s remark about the tangibility of messages: though we cannot physically hold language in our hands, this does not mean that it lacks all forms of materiality.

In terms of the bookish community, I think it’s particularly interesting to think about how materiality affects our interpretation and perception of what we read. Most contentiously: Does the format through which we consume a story impact our thoughts about it? Will my opinion of a book change if I listen to the audio book version instead of reading a paper copy or even in ebook form? 

What do you think? How important is materiality or format when it comes to reading or even communicating in general? Do you feel as though you perceive books differently depending on the format in which you consume them? Let me know in the comments section below!



9 responses to “Does Format Impact Interpretation? | Discussion”

  1. I love this post. It’s very interesting and is definitely something I think about 😀
    I personally do think that the format through which I read a book effects my opinion of it. I generally do not read ebooks because I find that the story and writing doesn’t impact me nearly as much, and I tend to forget most of the book very quickly. To me reading is an experience, so a physical copy of a book is necessary or else it’s almost a waste of time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree! I’ve found that I don’t enjoy books nearly as much if I read an ebook version. For some reason they don’t stick in my head as well as physical books do. Part of me wonders if this is because I grew up reading only physical books because it’s only recently that ebooks have become popular. Will the younger generations feel this way about physical books?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope the younger generation will, but it’s hard to tell because physical books have had a habit of fluctuating in popularity since ebooks became big. I’m personally worried that one day physical books will be treated like records, which we see as “vintage” and “hipster” and not as easy to get ahold of, and not just a way to consume information in a different format.


  2. I think I enjoy books more in physical form than e-book form. I believe that is because my attention span is greater for a physical book. I think my attention is very compromised with an audio book. I do enjoy them. But usually with audio books you are multitasking and so your mind wanders away. It is like someone talking to you for a very very long time and your attention is compromised now and then.

    Evn though I say all this I think it ultimately depends on the book. I have really enjoyed some great books both in e book format and audiobook format. I think it is the moderate ones that suffer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel the same way about audiobooks! I’ve actually never tried listening to any because I get easily distracted. I find that the act of reading allows me to become completely absorbed in a story and ultimately enjoy it more.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I definitely agree! I always read the physical version of a book if I know that I’ll really have to focus while reading it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I completely agree– it certainly depends on the book, though in my experience I do tend to enjoy and take away more from physical books rather than ebooks or audio books. It’s nice to be able to multitask while listening to audio books, though! And I almost always prefer it when the author is also the narrator.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Does Format Impact Interpretation? | Discussion […]


  4. The format I read a book in definitely changes my opinion of it. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’ve found that I have a much higher tolerance when I’m listening to a book instead of reading it. A narrator can make a book even more amazing! On the flip side, a bad narrator can ruin a book for me. Also, I tend to get distracted when I listen to audiobooks, so sometimes that does affect how much I like a book. I miss a lot of details, and then the story isn’t as amazing as it could have been.

    As for physical books vs. ebooks, that’s tough. I love holding a hardcover in my hand, but if I’m nervous about breaking the spine and barely open it, I’m definitely less likely to enjoy it. On the other hand, sometimes I find myself more distracted when I read an ebook. I can flip through pages so easily, without really realizing what I’m doing. But I do find ebooks much easier to read, especially if I’m reading an epic fantasy. I read in bed a lot, so it’s hard to hold up a massive book! And I love being able to highlight as I read.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: