Affordances of books: from paper to digital version


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Huazhi Qin

According to Norman, affordances are relationships. (Norman,1999) To be more specific, an affordance is a relationship between an object and a person. Also, it enables a particular kind of interactions in between, which is determined by the properties of the object and the capabilities of the person who is interacting with the object. The book is one of the most important artefacts which numerous affordances.

As human beings’ long history of reading print books, a series of habits have been established, which is constrained by properties of physical books and individuals’ abilities. As for appearances, front cover presents the core information including title and author, while back cover always remain blank. Readers can easily figure out which face they should start with. Also in order to turn to the next page, readers have to flip over rotating the side which is bound up. Besides, information such as title is printed on the spine. It allows readers to stack books in bookshelf with the only spine facing outside. Regarding inside pages, Papers and ink constrain readers to read the book under the light. Fixed font sizes define the distance between eyes and papers. Also, margins allow readers to write down their thoughts or take notes. Contents and page numbers afford to quickly search and locate chapters.

Furthermore, different books vary in weight and size and influence how and where people read or use it. Those lightweight books with a medium size are easy to be carried in hand and bags, which means they are portable and people can take one along and read whenever and wherever they want to. While other books, like dictionaries, are often too heavy and large to take outside.

However, affordances are not always the same in every case. They might be different in different cultures. According to Professor Irvine, the inferences we make are learned from socialization into what’s normative in using all the built “stuff” in a culture. (Irvine) For instance, reading directions differ in different countries. In Japan, books are read vertically from right to left. In China, it should be done horizontally from left to right.

As what Professor Irvine said, societies are always hybrid with many co-existing technologies, contexts of use, and cultural genres. (Irvine) Print books and eBooks now co-exist in our reading experience.

Take Kindle as an example. How we respond and interact with it inherits from how we deal with paper books and also change at the same time. Kindle tries to provide similar reading experiences. The texts presented following the habitual reading direction. And it simulates how reader flip over a printed paper – tap the right side of the screen to turn to the next page and tap on the left side to get back to the previous page. Also, it employs e-ink technology to make the screen somewhat paper-like.

Meanwhile, many reading experiences have been improved in digital media displays. It expands the numbers of books one can bring. “My library” acts as a virtual bookshelf, indicating where to find the booklist. Its adjustable font sizes loosen the reading distance restrictions. The function of quick searching and locating can be used based on keywords or terms rather than chapter titles. Besides, the highlighting sentences and notes readers take are collected in a “notebook” and can be exported to the computer and other software.