James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

that may or may not exist

82: The Replay Value of Books

The Fieldwork: “The Replay Value of Books”

During a review of any piece of media, usually there is a mention of replay value. Sure this piece of entertainment is great in the present day, but will I want to revisit it? Is there a beauty in noticing the marks in the margins or the digital footprints you left behind, the breadcrumbs of a once read piece of literature with all spoilers intact?

Of course there is.

Out of curiosity, I’ve been re-reading some books, re-playing some games, and re-entertaining myself with podcast episodes. It made me wonder, particularly with digital goods, is it a conscious decision when making the original product that this form of media should last the test of time? With an abundance of digital media being produced constantly, is it worth it to look back at older works?

The book I’m currently re-reading is Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson. The premise of the book is refuting the idea that technology dumbs us down, but instead enhances our self a la augmented reality. Our devices act as digital extensions, as forks, knives, and fire extended the capabilities of our teeth. Since the book was written in 2013, and the main subject being a field that changes faster than we change our underwear, it would be easily dated within months of its’ release.

I read Smarter Than You Think as an e-book1 in 2013 as a way to engage my mind during a shitty commute to a job I hated. I enjoyed the premise of the book’s thematic points, the way it engaged my mind, and how it made me critically consider the digital tools that surround my desk, pockets, and wrist2. I text-shotted3 passages I enjoyed, had conversations with my wife and friends on Twitter and Tumblr, and made art from the knowledge gained. After finishing the book, the 201 x 284 screenshot of the cover sat on the shelves of my iPad, awaiting the dust to settle on its’ jacket.

Fast-forward to late–2015. I’m trying to save up for a trip so I’ve been doubling down on my budget to the point I’ve been putting off new books to read. I opened up iBooks to give Smarter Than You Think another go and a few pages in, I was greeted with a message from my past self.


Like coming across an older physical book with highlights, Post-Its falling out the pages, and dog-eared corners, digital books with replay value allow us to see what our mind was churning through years ago. The only difference is search and the consolidation of notes reign supreme with the book’s digital counterpart. Flipping through these highlights and looking up dictionary definitions of those glowing words, I was brought back to my 2013 brain with the benefit of two years of gained knowledge and experiences.

Re-reading a book used to be a solitary act, but a digital book’s re-reading can easily become a public performance. Easily sharable screenshots to re-engage conversations with those not around your physical presence, data being sent back to venues such as Amazon to gage popularity, Twitter chatter years later—these digital hubs become an online book club with strangers and friends.

I was part of a Slack-based book club with a handful of people I didn’t know. Headed by Margot Harrington, she rounded up a group of folks and we collectively read The Artist Way. Weekly, or sporadically, we chimed in while doing our morning pages, what we thought of the book, and screenshots of our activity progress. The group was full of readers that crossed lines of proximity, race, and gender, including those that read the book for the first time or were choosing to re-read it. My mother hosts her local chapter of a book club over Skype, Mocha Girls Read, in which she meets up with members monthly and occasionally has group Q & A’s with the book’s author.

It’s almost as if the knowledge and conversations that were brought up in Smarter Than You Think’s 2013 are being live updated without a “re-release with updated content”. We are updating the content ourselves with new tools, new conversations, and annotations that will live on servers and searchable text for years to come.4

If only we could find an easier way to let others borrow digital books…


This Week’s Magazine Clippings

★ “In the Future, How Will We Talk to Our Technology?”: I’ve been interested in voice-based interactions ever since discovering Dragon Dictation on my iPhone 3G. This curious piece looks into how voice directed interactions have grown in the present day, and the hardware and software tricks that are making it more ubiquitous.

★ “Why Ikea Causes So Much Relationship Tension”: A few weeks ago while my wife and I were sleeping, we were jolted by our bed falling apart in the middle of the night. Putting a bed back together, half asleep, at 2 am will test a relationship. A psychologist breaks down why forgetting to put that little wooden peg in the slot of a headboard can lead to some unwanted relationship therapy.

★ The Late, Great Stephen Colbert: I’ve never seen an episode of The Colbert Report, but I’m fascinated by Stephen Colbert. After Heben Nigatu highly recommended reading this interview of Colbert on an episode of her podcast, Another Round, I’m even more fascinated by this gentleman.

★ Why I make something awful, every day: Your inspirational read for the week. There’s no way you can get to the good stuff without making a bunch of crap to get there. 

★ Design Against Humanity: The Creative Team Behind the Blockbuster Game: If you are familiar with Cards Against Humanity, but not so much about what goes behind the design of it, this article is for you. I’ve been so lucky to share office space with these creative folks.



★ I have two slots open for design and development work between October - December of this year. If you are in need or know of any leads, contact me.

★ Looky here, this Wednesday will be episode 22 of Cher Vincent and myself’s podcast, Open Ended. We vaguely talk about humanity and tech from the black perspective, but mostly we trade jokes and talk about ratchetness of our surrounding world. It’s honestly a great weekly release. This week it’s just the two of us but you can check out last week’s episode, ‘The Same Mess Everywhere’ with Lindsay Eyth of Eythink on our websiteiTunes, or in any other podcast player. Be sure to rate us on iTunes and send us a donation to keep the lights on.

★ If you’re into owning some art, I’ve got a few framed prints of a piece I created recently, “we(act)," for sale. If you are interested in having some art of mine in your home or studio, reply to this email so we can chat!


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  1. In twenty years, calling a book an “e-book” will sound as asinine as referring to a coffee shop with internet access a “cyber cafe”. 

  2. To be fair, the Apple Watch wasn’t released then, but wearable technology was in its public infancy with Google Glass’ availability to select testers in 2013. 

  3. It’s the way the cool kids take screenshots of text and post it on various forms of social media. 

  4. Unless bit rot doesn’t take place. 

James T. Green