So I now have the habit of looking for the things I need on the web. Whether I need a recipe or a tutorial, the Internet is my friend and helps me well to find what I need. However, recently I wanted to get some more information about the painter René Magritte whose paintings really attracted my attention but strangely the Internet didn’t help as I hoped.
I came to know Magritte through successive independent events as if something was pushing me to get to know his art. Of course, he is a renowned painter so it’s quite normal that I would hear of him in one way or another. But the weird thing was that all that information about him came to me naturally at one moment of my life. Even weirder is that his art was really what I needed at that moment of my life. I sort of believe that my brain subconsciously knew what I needed and filtered all the information coming on my way to bring it to my attention. This phenomenon happens to me quite a lot. But anyway, I will post that introspective stuff on my secret blog later. Here is the background story.
So, first I stumbled upon the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” on TV where the stolen painting is the famous Magritte’s painting “Le Fils de l’Homme”. I had already seen the movie but decided to let it play in the background on my TV while I would be surfing on the web. At times, the movie was on mute (I just like seeing moving images on a screen), but visually that painting really drew my attention. The painting was THE painting that Thomas Crown had stolen, yet it was such a simple painting, contemporary, and funny looking. It was way far from the classical Monet, Renoir or Rembrandt paintings that usually get stolen in movies.
Well, when the movie was finished, I was so curious that I investigated on the web and found the reference. I read some articles and mainly browsed through images of his paintings which were all really enticing. Then, one or two days after this discovery, another channel on TV was broadcasting a program about Magritte. So I watched it and learned about his life and context, but still my curiosity was not satisfied. After browsing the web to find some more information about him, his vision and concept, I gave up. I couldn’t find any satisfying website that could explain to me what Magritte was thinking and what he wanted to convey with his paintings. Sure, the arty hype dandy will tell me “Elodie, art is something you feeeeeel !!! There is no guide to understand art !! O-M-G”. Ok. But I’m an Internet person, I’m used to guides and explanations! Yes, it’s true, now with the Internet, you don’t accept anymore to not get it. “Just accept it” is not an option. This is what the Internet trained us to, find the answer.
Find the answer
So, even if there were some university websites or blog articles that put Magritte’s paintings forward, none of them were comprehensive. Rather, I had the feeling that I would have a satisfying answer to my quest only by putting together bits of everywhere.
Realising that I couldn’t find consistent information on the web about Magritte, I decided to go to a bookshop and bought a book about him. “What???” will you say, “Did you just give up on technology and went back to the antique information support known as book????” “What the coconut???”. I know! Sometimes, I really despise myself for that. But, let me explain.
I choose the book
What the Internet gave me was only information about his biography, and no website really defined his style and art, when this is what matters the most in art I think. I passionately read the book and felt satisfied to have finally understood a bit of how Magritte thought his paintings. It is not the first time that I choose a book over relying on the Internet (You unfaithful geek !) to get some thorough information about something. Even for tech content, I would rather rely on books than on the Internet when it comes to learning something . When I wanted to learn AJAX, I bought a book about AJAX even if O’Reilly provides tech content on the subject online. There is something reassuring in books.
But haven’t we arrived at this time when we can find everything we need on the web? That is what I want to believe and I try as possible not to buy paper based documents to save space, but reality is still far from that. Indeed, I inevitably encounter some limitations when I look for complete information on a subject, I can’t find that information on the web. So, I prefer buying a book. I believe this is mainly a psychological decision, but it makes all the difference between a blog or a website and a book. This is the psychological reason that I want to detail here.
Why did I chose a book over the Internet?
I am comparing a blog and a book because both have an author that writes the content, in more or less a personal style. But when I refer to a blog, this is also a reference to an online based content, or a website.
So to understand my decision, let’s understand what my needs were.
When I was looking for information about Magritte, my need was first to learn about Magritte’s principles of creation, his concept and philosophy, then I needed to situate him within a context, to understand the motivation behind his art and finally I needed to feel satisfied of what I learned and have a reference to check again about what I learned.
Because the book is finished
The first two needs are just about content. I chose a book because it was written by a specialist of Magritte’s art, so I knew the content had been reviewed, and that the author would both write about context and concept. But this is not what motivated me.This content could have perfectly been on the Internet, even if often the information is scattered all over the Internet. I’m quite sure that if I dug further on the Internet I would have found what I was looking for. But this would have been time consuming and in the end, frustrating. When it comes to a specific subject, typically when you need to learn about something thoroughly, it is actually rare to find a satisfying website, because to my sense a website can’t give you the sense of achievement you get when you feel you have learned something. In other words, if the content of my book was online, in one equivalent website, would have I still chosen the book over the website? Probably. So it’s not just about the content.
This has to do with the satisfying feeling of having learned something. The biggest difference between a website and a book, is that the book is a compact, finished object whereas the website is a virtual place that gets updated independently from the reader, its content is therefore unlimited. Yet, when I want to learn something I need to reach a point where I can say I learned something. I can most likely reach this point at the end of the content, when this content is limited, but when the content is unlimited, I have the feeling that there might still be something I am missing. On the web, the feeling of satisfaction might only come when you realise the content is repeating in the websites you read.
The Internet is overwhelming
In this way, the Internet can get overwhelming. You often end up searching for the right information source, rather than really focusing on one source and learning from it. It’s easy for us to try and read all the websites without even finding what we need. I believe this is a flaw of the searching experience on the Internet, but this is a whole other discussion. As it is today, we search information with words only. Our only way of selection is to rely on Google’s algorithm and click on the first link. Whereas in my case, I wanted to search with categories. I wanted a website about art, written by a specialist, with an encyclopedic or school consistency. Websites are not yet categorized, so it’s not quite possible to find a website with an “encyclopedic consistency”. The solution would be to go on the website of an encyclopedia such as Universalis, Britannica, or else, and type “Magritte”. But what if an Art museum made a more relevant website, or if a passionate art specialist blogged about it? Not to mention, that the encyclopedic websites make you pay a subscription fee whereas I just want to read that specific article. Yet, note that I have the freedom of entering any bookshop I want, and buy a book without being tied to that particular bookshop. In real life, I can see immediately what type of content that book contains, by asking the bookseller, by the thickness of the book (of course!), by the style etc. On the Internet it’s more difficult. Is a website with a funky design automatically ranged as “not encyclopedic”? Not really. Search and the whole process of choosing your source of information is really another complex topic (see semantic web), but you see my point.
Overwhelmed by the amount of information going everywhere on the Internet, I chose a book because at least it is limited, everything is there. Finishing reading a book really gives me a sense of achievement, I feel I have learned something. But then, the fact that the book is physical also gives me the feeling of owning it. And it may not seem obvious, but the book comes with a lot of basic functionalities a website still doesn’t have.
Because I own it
You own your book but you don’t own a website. When I read a book, I always have a pencil with me, to add my comments, underline the words I liked etc. I also have bookmarks, to remember the parts I particularly found interesting, or when I don’t have bookmarks, I just fold the top corners of the pages. These are basic functionalities that every book comes with and that online content unfortunately doesn’t have. But this is part of my reading experience. I really can’t read and learn if I don’t have my pencil, or if I can’t mark the pages to continue my reading later. Websites and blogs are not ours, we can’t highlight or make notes on what the author wrote, we would have to print the article and make our notes. What about e-books? First, they are also finished, so you get the “satisfying feeling of finishing something”, ok, second you can add bookmarks, comments, and whatever you need. Yes. Except, no! No, these functionalities don’t come with the e-book. These functionalities come with the software you use, and they are not standard at all.
I can’t write on my e-book, I can’t write visible comments, or add bookmarks. Some software allow these functionalities, but this is too dependent on the software. To do all this, I have to use Adobe Acrobat Pro which is heavier than Adobe Reader and most simple pdf readers. And I am not even sure all those modifications are visible in another software or if I have to use Adobe Acrobat Pro forever (!!) to read my e-books. So I almost never do that, I am afraid of getting stuck at some point and lose all my comments because I chose a closed software. Yet with a book, you are not tied to anyone, you just own it. Imagine! Paying Adobe to be able to write on my ebook, is like paying the paper provider of my book and the pencil, I already pay that when I buy the book, but do I really pay that hundreds of dollars? I could buy Adobe once and then read countless ebooks, maybe it is equivalent, but there is still the fact that I am tied forever to Adobe, I really don’t like that. I’m saying these functionalities should be standard in online reading, otherwise it’s not reading, it’s viewing.
Finally, the fact that a book is physical is important to know the content is not going to change or vanish. With a website there is always the risk that it disappears one day and you get a 404. For that reason, a website can’t really act as a reference to something, its content is too flexible. This is the last reason why I chose a book, because it is a reference.
Because the book is a reference
When you read information from several online sources, it is frustrating not to have all that information in one place. The Internet has the advantage of being accessible, so if I don’t find that info on that website, I will find it on another website but how can I keep track of what I am reading? Copy paste and put the link of the source in Google Docs or a notepad? Print the articles? Haa. This is what I also prefer about books, the book is a reference of my knowledge for something. Writing a book requires much time of research and gathering of information, so the book is the result of all that research. The book, gathers all the information you are trying to gather when you look for deep information on the web. Blog articles are real time articles, they are in constant evolution so they most likely describe something going on, not really something that can already be defined, categorized and explained. For that reason, books with the time spent in research have information that have already been studied. So when it comes to “encyclopedic information” as I like to call it, books are a reference. But when it comes to something going on, blogs are a better source. I wouldn’t see the benefit of reading a book like “How to build a successful start-up?” because start ups evolve at the same speed as the web. Blogs of successful entrepreneurs would be more useful even if a book could settle the basis of your study. So if you want some information about a dusty art topic, books are the best ! Just joking, but you get the idea.
My ideal would be to completely rely on technology as my source of knowledge, because it’s accessible, space saving, flexible, unlimited, collaborative and instant, but as it is today I realised it’s not enough satisfying so that it can completely overtake books.