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Print or pixels: Which is better?

A pile of books and a tablet computer

(Photo: Corbis)

The week’s best arts and culture reads – including screens v books, the tragedy of American universities and some Seamus Heaney from the archives.

Paper versus pixel
Nicholas Carr | Nautilus | 30 August 2013
Reports of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated. Writing on paper looks set for a long cohabitation with writing on screens; both have their advantages. “We were probably mistaken to think of words on screens as substitutes for words on paper. They seem to be different things, suited to different kinds of reading and providing different sorts of aesthetic and intellectual experiences”.

Academy fight song
Thomas Frank | The Baffler | 29 August 2013
The tragedy and outrage of American universities. They exploit their historic role and privilege in society to pile up wealth for themselves and their managers. They charge indebted students inflated prices for classes of diminishing value taught by professors who are mostly low-paid adjuncts. “The charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two”.

Ten paragraphs about lists you need in your life right now
Mark O'Connell | New Yorker | 29 August 2013
On the proliferation and significance of lists. “In the not too distant future, all human interactions, written or otherwise, might well be conducted in the form of lists. I imagine myself nervously perched on the papered leatherette of an examination bed, and my doctor directing her sad, humane eyes at me a moment before clearing her throat and saying, ‘Top Five Signs You Probably Have Pancreatic Cancer’.”

What is the value of unique?
Izabella Kaminska | FT Alphaville | 27 August 2013
Bold, esoteric think-piece about the role played by scarcity in the production and perception of value in art, and what happens to value judgements if 3D printing enables perfect reproductions of, say, the Mona Lisa. “Functionally speaking, a molecularly perfect substitute provides exactly the same utility. The easier it becomes to replicate anything scarce for the masses, the more value will be directed to non-replenishable source material”.

How to write about the Balkans
Balkanist | 27 August 2013
Inspired by the Granta classic, How To Write About Africa, and just as enjoyable. “Detail the sheer terror you feel in the company of your wild-eyed driver, who careens recklessly around the blind curves of deadly mountain roads. Admit that you find yourself uneasily calculating the age of every local male you meet, nervously wondering if he ever carried a weapon in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, or Kosovo”.   

On thinking caps
Venkatesh Rao | Tempo | 26 August 2013
Being creative is hard work, even if it doesn't look that way. “I’d like a literal thinking cap. A regular baseball hat, but with the look of an orange or yellow construction hard hat. It would say ‘Construction in Progress, Do Not Disturb’ on it. Having to actively keep up an ostentatious facade of activity just to signal that you are occupied can be very distracting. If I had a thinking cap, and such things were culturally normal, I’d probably be wearing it for more than half of my waking hours.”

Making It New
Seamus Heaney | New York Review Of Books | 25 October 1984
In memory of Seamus Heaney, this noble review, ungated, from the NYRB archives, of James Fenton’s Children In Exile. “Fenton can handle the domestic metrical line as naturally and cajolingly as the late John Betjeman but he prefers not to massage the collective emotions as consolingly as the laureate did: far from being bathed in the glow of the good old days, his work is backlit by the fires of contemporary history.”

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