It’s quite right to say …don’t judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to books and a variety of other things, we all do, all the time.
Digital spaces like websites have the capacity to play the role of ‘mothership’ in the 21st century. It would therefore be useful for practitioners to consider about how a project or communication strategy might translate from the page to the digital world and then in to the sensory world. Putting something online or in the public domain does not necessarily give it an automatic audience. Pathways are required in various forms to direct audiences either back to the mothership or somewhere else.
In selecting books from a library, I instinctively skip the ones without pictures or a well- designed cover, my senses are making judgements for me whether I like it or not. My critique of the written word isn’t its inability to paint a picture, more that it lacks the visual energy needed to make visually stimulated people pick it up and keep reading. Research that stays in pure text form also leaves itself open to questionable interpretation, topical alignment and being reduced to soundbites when it enters the news media.
The discussion (Front Row, 2017) went some way to framing my bias against the written word. Hearing people talk so passionately on the topic of essays came as quite a shock. They used words like explore, thought-provoking, versatility, personality, capacity, conversational and expansive. If at school you are only ever asked to write in-depth about topics for which you have no enthusiasm, it’s unlikely essays will ever be any of those things. Language is easy to fall in love with when you hear someone like Christopher Hitchens express themselves through it or Stephen Fry deconstruct it. When I see it on a page however, it loses all it’s life along with any powers of persuasion. It is telling that an awareness of the richness of essays was realised via a radio programme, not the essays themselves.
I would argue that a dense text does a good job of being a ‘mothership’ or a bible to underpin research, but a bad job of catching the eye, seducing a consumer or entering the public consciousness.
Text (or the ‘linguistic turn’) is so much part of the research landscape that we could add it to the impact pathway, before ‘outputs’. This could shift thinking to consider or reimagine the form research can take after the book and journal, rather than putting all the eggs in one basket like the once great Kodak.
This hypothesis is not anti-text, it’s pro variety. It’s all about acknowledging that texts are but one tool in the curatorial toolkit, one plant in the garden. Thinking of the book as just one moment in a large flow of things (Lehrer, 2018) is a balanced way to look at the place of research based texts in society. Research per se, cannot go out of business like Kodak, but an inefficiency to communicate outside certain silos could be far more painful for humans, culture and society in the long term. Different avenues mean broader audiences. The world is littered with the skeletons of once innovative companies who failed to move with the times, this proves to some degree that adaptability and sustainability trump medium.