Cover image by Drpoulette on Flickr
Of all the possible platforms I could select to explore bible as book in the digital age, I focus on Kindle because it is a familiar and ubiquitous platform that continues to try to perform as book in significant ways. Though Kindle and other ebook platforms offer a distinct change in a user’s relationship to a text, even the nomenclature of “ebook” and “Kindle book” demonstrate that these interfaces continue to imagine themselves in the category of book. Based on the definition of book I began with in the introduction, “a technology that involves the fastening together of discrete pieces of material to gather and set boundaries for a writing or collection of writings, which is primarily governed by the structure of the page,” Kindle is a book interface. Further, Kindle signals its ancestral relationship with the codex book in its predominant structuring of text in columns on discrete pages that are turned. So, as we have seen with other emerging technologies, Kindle books continue to enact the structures of its predecessors, while extending new affordances in interface.
The number of bibles available on Kindle is innumerable. Depending on the day, your location, your search habits, and your demographics, a web search for “Kindle bible” will return a different set of options. Already, in this kind of search, we are performing the probabilistic production of interface, because each search has the potential to produce something new based on different user variables and on the constantly emerging options for bible on the Kindle platform. From my particular location in the USA as a bible scholar who does a fair bit of web searching related to bible, one of the top search results when I pass a simple query of “Kindle bible” is a Kindle Book titled “The Bible - The Holy Bible Formatted for Your eReader.”1 This title alone deserves some comment. First of all, the main title of the book is simply “The Bible” without any qualifications or further limitations or identifications. The subtitle offers a small amount more to distinguish this bible interface from the others available on Kindle.2 This bible is a bible “Formatted for Your eReader.” Even in the title, this book is taking seriously the role of interface in the construction of this bible. In this title, there is no mention of version or author or date or language or oder of the text within. What is foregrounded is interface.
If you are willing to spend the $1.99 to purchase this bible interface and you read the “about this book” information, it becomes even more evident that this bible builds its unique identity on the expansion of non-linear access offered by the digital affordances of indexing, anchors, and search. Touch screen navigation, hyperlinked table of contents and chapter/verse markings, and a simplified search mechanism are all the ways this particular bible interface is advertised as unique. The only mention of the particularities of the content of the text inside is a simple statement that this Kindle bible “contains the complete old and new testaments…ASV Version.”3 Here we find the only language focused specifically on contents in the entire description and framing of this Kindle bible. Otherwise, this bible is defined by its interface affordances exclusively. The only mention of author or source of this Kindle bible is the grammatically redundant “ASV Version” fragment in the description, with American Standard listed as the author of the book. Following the author link for American Standard provided by Amazon leads to a blank profile with only this one bible in the list of related items. The American Standard Version is a public domain text of the bible published initially in 1901. There is a vast and interesting history to this English translation of the bible, but this Kindle bible pays no attention to this either in the advertising of the bible or in the bible’s introduction. We can see here a bible that is entirely focused on the use of it in interface, not on the content it contains.
Lest we imagine that the codex has been replaced entirely by this new interface, this Kindle bible uses the title page from a print codex bible as its “cover” art. Here we find a material representation of the palimpsestuous process of media translation, with an image of a print codex page representing the interface of a Kindle book designed to extend the non-linear access affordances introduced by the codex into new realms made possible by internet technologies.4 This Kindle bible takes seriously the possibilities of its use and does not assume user familiarity with affordances available in this digital interface, so with the most emphasized line in the description, this bible offers links to YouTube videos on how to use the bible.5 This may seem like a silly item to highlight in a bible, but it makes a fascinating point about the assumptions we have about users and codicies that are no longer operable in these emerging book interfaces. If content is just one part of interface, then these changes in modes of access will inevitably change the relationship between user and platform, thus will require new skills and new intuitions.
Proliferation of Interfaces
One of the most interesting developments in the media translation of bible from codex to Kindle is the ability to use this Kindle bible on an actual Kindle device, a laptop, an iPhone, an iPad, android devices, and the list gets larger every day. In a sense, what I have purchased from Amazon in this Kindle bible is permission to participate in a plethora of interfaces, increasing the surface area of this bible by providing multiple points of contact even at the platform level. This is one of the distinct differences between newer media interfaces of bible and the manuscript interfaces we have looked at previously. To own a manuscript is to have a singular material object with which a user relates. Certainly, there were variabilities in the encounter between user and platform in roll or codex interfaces based on historical period, social location, and cultural dynamics at any given time. Yet, in roll and codex interfaces, the material affordances were constant for a given book. A user could own more than one bible, but each bible was a distinct entity and did not require any other technology of access in order to interface with it.6 So, in order to participate in the interface that is this Kindle bible, I have to purchase the bible and I have to have access to Kindle Reader software, either in a web browser or as a downloaded application on my laptop or mobile device. As a user of this bible on an iPhone, I actually have at minimum three interfaces at play when I use this Kindle bible-the interface of the phone, the interface of the reader application, and the interface of the particular bible I am using. The overlapping interface possibilities available in my use of this Kindle bible on a computer or on my iPhone provides expansive points of contact with the book that can resist a user from settling into the monotony of mastering one consistent approach to the interface.
Collaboration and the Page
The ability of a user to choose which device to use to participate in the Kindle bible interface and to use different devices as part of the bible interface is just the beginning of the expanded role of the user in shaping the material aspects of the interface. Though users certainly had an impact on the material surfaces of the roll and codex interfaces through adaptations of the text and use in communal settings, the Kindle bible affords an entirely new scale of user participation in shaping the physical space of the interface. Users of roll and codex interfaces were confined by the physical dimensions and limits of the pages, finding space in the margins and between lines or even over text to collaboratively construct the interface. In this Kindle bible interface, the flexibility of the digital screen affords the user the ability to participate in things such as page dimensions, font size, color of background, and number of columns per page. This user participation in shaping the material character of the page enacts one of the collaborative affordances of the Kindle bible interface.
Though entirely unnecessary technologically, Kindle books pay homage to the codex page by maintaining the horizontal navigation through discrete units of text, which mimics the pages of paper or papyrus bound at a spine. This carrying on of the codex page in a technological framework that does not demand it resembles the continued use of a roll’s multiple columns of text on a single codex page, even though not the most efficient use of the emerging technology of the codex. In the browser Kindle interface, a user can use arrow keys on the keyboard or click the arrows provided in the pages to move either direction.7 On an iPhone or other touchscreen device, this navigation is enacted by a touch on the edge of the current page in the direction you want to move and a swipe. This swipe action is the closest physical motion to the familiar page turn of the codex. Some digital reading platforms such as iBooks actually programmed the swipe to visually emulate the turning of the codex page to carry this characteristic experience into these new media environments.
Kindle pages also have a header and footer that are consistent throughout. The page header keeps the title of the book present throughout the book and the footer provides a location indicator, which functions as a media translation of page numbers in a late codex interface. When Kindle first released its platform, all Kindle books used this location numbering as the means of locating a user within the space of the book sequentially. Due to market demands to have better crossover reference capabilities with print versions of the same book, Kindle introduced page numbers into their platform in 2011.8 Page numbers are not provided in our particular Kindle bible, because this particular Kindle bible has no interest in staying in sync with a print interface and because bible already has such regular internal reference markings provided by chapter and verse. Keeping the location number in the footer of the page throughout the book enables the user to have a sense of where they are located within the larger structure of the book. Better yet, the Kindle layer of the interface provides a location slider and percentage along with the raw location number to provide better visualization of a user’s position within a book. This slider visualization enacts a material media translation of the experience of holding a codex and feeling or seeing the different thicknesses of pages in the right hand and the left. In 2016 Kindle expanded this media translation of locating a user within the larger book with the introduction of a feature called Page Flip.9 With Page Flip, the user gets a slider and thumbnails of pages nearby to afford easy visualization of the macro location in the book and easy navigation elsewhere or back to the page from which the exploration began.
The use of location instead of page numbers as the primary indicator of position within a book highlights one of the important interface changes brought by the Kindle platform. In a print or manuscript codex, page size, font size, font type, margin size, page coloring are determined by the book producer and remain unchanged by the user. In this situation, where the materiality of the book determines the page dimensions and boundaries in a fixed and stable manner, regardless of use, it makes sense for page number to be a primary navigational reference aid. A Kindle book allows the user to participate much more in the material construction of the page. In a browser, with one menu click, the Kindle platform allows the user to select from five font sizes, five margin widths, and three text and background color combinations. Mobile Kindle interfaces allow the user to select font type and instead of margin size selection, mobile users can select spacing between lines. It is well established that things like color, font size, and spacing between lines has an impact on user interface and readability.10 Yet, for our purposes here, the important impact of this increased user participation in defining the materiality of the interface is that user defines the page instead of the material limits of the book. When using a Kindle bible on an iPhone, if a user turns the phone from portrait (phone held vertically) to landscape (phone held horizontally), the amount and organization of the content on the page changes. For example, if I am at the beginning of Ezra chapter 8 in the Kindle bible on my iPhone 7, in portrait mode, the current page holds the first 11 verses, but only 8 in landscape mode. If I were to change the font size or the spacing between lines, the page definition would change yet again. Though the page possibilities are not unlimited, the book is still bound in a sense, there is no doubt that users play a far greater role in constructing the material aspects of the page than previous book interfaces. This variability in the material aspects of the page is a major technological innovation and renders page numbers unnecessary, even nonsensical, in a Kindle book except for the need to have conversation about locations across interfaces. Yet, the page as a discrete unit of interface remains and has become a site of collaboration in the Kindle bible interface as users are invited to participate in constructing the dimensions of the page.
Annotation as Collaboration
The collaborative affordances of the Kindle bible interface do not stop at the user’s ability to shape the contours of the page. Whereas only trained scribes or authorized users of a roll or codex interface of bible in antiquity would have had the ability to annotate the text, every user of The Bible - The Holy Bible Formatted for Your eReader has the ability to participate in marking the interface. The Kindle bible provides two primary forms of annotation for any user participating in the interface, highlighting and notes. Any portion of the text can be highlighted, thus marked as important or interesting, and user notes can be added at any location in the text, as long as attached to some portion of the text of the bible. Users can also bookmark a location in the Kindle book, which functions like a dogeared page in a codex or a marginal notation in a roll that signals the special importance of a particular location in the text.11 These notes, highlights and bookmarks signal a significant capacity for encouraging active participation in the reading process. In 1QIsa^a^ and Codex Sinaiticus, this kind of annotative activity was visible for all users to see, providing material indicators of the ongoing evolution of the interface. The presence of these interruptive marks from others contributed to the collaborative affordances of the roll and codex as well as to the anarchy of these interfaces, resisting the reduction to a singular and deterministic use. The default settings in the Kindle bible interface make annotations private for the individual user, which does not demand the same curious interruptive possibilities offered by the marginal activity in our ancient interface examples.
Despite the default tendencies of the Kindle interface toward a private and isolated annotative experience for each user, the Kindle bible interface does provide two collaborative annotative capacities that can contributed to a more anarchic interface by inviting other voices into the interface. First, the Kindle bible interface offers an option to turn on a feature called “Popular Highlights.” If enabled, this popular highlights feature will show a user passages in the book that have been marked as important or interesting by other users. A highlight is deemed popular if three or more distinct users mark the same passage and the interface will show the number of highlighters but not their identities nor any notes associated with the highlights. Though perhaps less informative than the persistent markings left on an ancient manuscript, with the popular highlights feature turned on, users of the Kindle interface are reminded that they are part of a community of users that may find different parts of the book important. As with many other parts of the Kindle bible interface, this contact with other voices is optional and can be turned off at any time, which can decrease the interruption possible in the Kindle interface.
A second collaborative annotative capacity afforded only when participating in the Kindle bible using one of Amazon’s Kindle Reader devices is the possibility of public notes. If a user chooses, they can change a setting in the Kindle bible interface to make all of their notes public instead of private. With public notes enabled, any other user following this user who has enabled these public notes in the Kindle bible will then see all of their notes and annotations made in the interface. Multiple users, from different parts of the world, can participate in this bible interface together, collaborating to construct the interface by marking its pages and anarchically resisting reduction of the interface to a static space with a singular voice. Unlike in the roll and codex, this collaborative capacity in the Kindle interface is elective and selective, making it less anarchic than the annotative lives of our older manuscript interfaces. Users of Codex Sinaiticus simply had to deal with the different voices and layers present in the interface, because these markings became a part of the singular material surface of the book that would confront every user. The Kindle bible interface operates as many material copies with the annotative markings as a separate layer of data, integrated into the interface for a seamless user experience, but not materially bound to the rest of the book in the same was as ink on parchment. The data surrounding these distinct copies of the Kindle bible can be connected through popular highlights and public notes, if a user so chooses, opening the interface up to the dynamic ambiguity of different voices. Yet, this resistance to consolidating the interface into a closed and deterministic system is not demanded to the same degree in the Kindle bible as it is in 1QIsa^a^ or Codex Sinaiticus.
On the other hand, the distinct layers of the text and user annotations in this Kindle bible offer a different kind of anarchic tendency in interface. As a user participates in the Kindle bible interface through highlights, notes, and bookmarks, these annotations are indexed in such a way that creates an entirely new and constantly emerging mechanism for navigating through the interface. Instead of being limited to the navigational structures built into the interface itself, such as book, chapter, and verse markings or location identifiers, the Kindle bible tracks the position of a user’s highlights and indexes each word in every note, which allows the user to move through the interface based on the traces of their participation. Our Kindle bible interface, The Bible - The Holy Bible Formatted for Your eReader, is impeccably structured to map the precise relationships between each part of the book, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. Yet, in the Notebook view of the Kindle Reader app, the annotative participations of a user provide a way of aggregating bits of the book based on user contact points, thus breaking up the structured flow of the text and introducing new possible relationships as two highlights from different places in the book bump up against a user note asking a question about something in between them. This new and evolving structure offered in Notebook view reveals a collaborative affordance that interrupts the ability of the default Kindle book structures to determine the possible relationships available in this interface.
Exponentially Expanding Non-Linear Access
The indexing of user notes in this annotative affordance of the Kindle bible highlights one of the most important attributes of this particular interface, the search function. Much like we saw with Codex Sinaiticus, the combination of collectability and non-linear access provided an increase in surface area in the interface by affording fast access to many points of the interface while resisting the limitation to one way of interacting with the interface. Perhaps the most significant innovation offered by the Kindle book is the exponential expansion of this non-linear access through the search functionalities. As the introduction to The Bible: The Holy Bible Formatted for Your eReader highlights, one of the advantages of this bible interface is the ability to search for any word or passage in the text and find all mentions of it in the entire book. Many bible interfaces provide indexes of various types to help users find passages or portions of text that address a shared theme, person, time period or geographical location. The Kindle bible builds an index of all the words in the bible and allows users to search for any term and it will present a list of all occurrences of that term in the book. Adding to the complexity of this search capacity, as I mentioned above, this indexing of words in the bible includes the words of a user’s notes. So, the indexing process that builds the search capacity actually incorporates the markings of the user into the interface in ways that resemble the material markings of the scribes in 1QIsa^a^ or Codex Sinaiticus.
This giant leap in scale of non-linear access creates a radically high surface area interface where a user can engage with any single point of the book with a simple query. Using search as a navigational tool and organizing method in the Kindle bible also provides a vast number of possible arrangements of the bits of the text, resisting the ability to over determine the interface. No single user could exhaust all of the possible approaches to the interface, because the interface keeps expanding as the user participates. More significantly, search as a means of user participation in the interface demonstrates the anarchic affordances of this interface by allowing the text to be reorganized based on the search terms passed by the user, putting passages into contact in the search results display that may never have come into contact in a more traditional mode of access. These searches are creating new possibilities for encounter both between parts of the text and between user and book interface. Folding user annotations into the search results along with passages from the text of the book also challenges any dominance the “intended” book interface might have had over the user’s experience. The extraordinary advances in and integration of user participation and non-linear access provided by The Bible - The Holy Bible Formatted for Your eReader demonstrate an interface that is constantly evolving and emerging, though still mostly contained within the covers of a digitized codex.
Bible as Book
Looking backward and forward at bible as book, it is clear that the affordances of high surface area, collaboration, and anarchy are present in a roll bible used for communal reading from the 2nd century BCE, a codex bible used as an exemplar for copying from the 4th century CE, and a Kindle bible designed for use by contemporary readers on mobile devices, even if not for the same reasons and to the same degree. Bible as interface is not new and not an invention of our contemporary emerging technological landscape. In light of the anxieties often present during times of emerging technologies, it is important to note that these affordances are not limited to one kind of interface and not guaranteed in any particular interface. In any bible interface, users are part of producing the possibilities for high surface area, collaboration, and anarchy in use and for shaping the design of interface in these directions. Now that we have seen these affordances at work in book interfaces, we will look toward interfaces that are pushing bible beyond the book.
This could be a reinforcement of Timothy Beal’s suggestion in The Rise and Fall of the Bible, Kindle location 61, that bible has become a cultural artifact that extends far beyond any sense of content to a cultural sensibility of “authoritative, univocal, practical, accessible, comprehensive, and exclusive.” Perhaps, including “The Holy Bible” in the subtitle of this particular Kindle book differentiates it in terms of content from other bibles, such as the Python Bible or the Golf Bible. Could this mean that “Holy” has become a synonym for Christian in common parlance?
From a user perspective, this seems like a failure of leveraging the possibilities of the platform. Yet, because Kindle books continue to perform the stability and fixicity of codex, meaning they do not allow updates like other interfaces might, this approach could afford providing better videos as they develop them or adding additional videos as issues arise with the interface. A more fitting strategy may have been to provide a link to a YouTube channel that could then be a dynamic library of support videos but with a durable link and landing space that could be provided in a stable interface such as a Kindle book.
This assumption is not transferable to the media literacies necessary for bible interface beyond book, which points again to the significance of this Kindle bible including YouTube instructional videos on how to use this bible.
This article demonstrates the continued influence of the codex on the design of the Kindle user interface.
http://a.co/grXmqZy, accessed on August 18, 2017. ↩
I am at a loss for why the word “Holy” is added to the subtitle of this book. ↩
See https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Holy-Formatted-Your-eReader-ebook/dp/B0032UYGE6 accessed on February 17, 2017. ↩
This use of a print codex page to signify the bible, rather than the titles of the writings in the bible, a list of characters and stories, or even some depiction of Christianity or God, shows how deeply embedded the identity of bible is in the print codex. ↩
Rather than using the affordance of linkability offered by the Kindle platform to deliver or embed these training videos in the book itself, for some reason the producers of this bible elected to provide a link to click to be emailed links to videos. ↩
Of course, we could speak of language as a technology required to access a roll or codex, but for our purposes here, we can assume language competence in the textual language in all of these interface examples. ↩
Further bothering the spatiality of navigation, both the up and the left arrow go backward in the book, while down and right move forward in the book. ↩
See https://www.wired.com/2011/02/amazon-adds-real-page-numbers-to-Kindle/ for an example of the kinds of pressures driving this demand for page numbers. ↩
See http://www.geekwire.com/2016/amazon-new-page-flip-navigation-tool-Kindle/ for an image, description, and video demonstrating this Page Flip feature. ↩
https://conversionxl.com/the-effects-of-typography-on-user-experience-conversions/ is a good starting place to begin exploring the impact of typography on reading in digital interfaces. ↩
Sharing is another affordance offered in the Kindle interface that provides opportunities for collaborative engagement between the interface user and others in their community who may or may not have access to the interface itself. ↩