The Earliest Mobile Library?

When I was designing the parameters for my speculative mobile library, one of my primary concerns was ease of access. In this age of instant gratification, we are more likely to engage in activities that require the minimum required physical effort. While I have been fortunate to live within a short driving or walking distance of the nearest public library, not everyone is so lucky to have the transportation necessary to obtain reading materials and other resources that libraries provide.

As it turns out, ease of access and mobility have long been concerns of humans hoping to educate themselves through the process of reading. According to this article I found online, one of the earliest mobile libraries dates back to 1617, making it possibly the first mobile library ever. Nicknamed the “Jacobean Kindle,” the library consists of fifty miniature books housed within a large wooden case that resembles a hollowed-out book. Each book is bound in vellum, with designs drawn on the spines in gold. There is a number or letter drawn onto each spine that correlates with the title of the book as written in the illuminated table of contents on the inside cover of the wooden case. According to the table of contents, the mobile library consisted of books in history, poetry, theology, and philosophy. Over a period of five years, a total of four of these mobile libraries were created.

I don’t know much about what libraries looked like in Britain long ago, but it would be interesting to note what other kinds of mobile libraries existed in the subsequent years, as well as the differences between libraries meant for public consumption and private use. Would a mobile library such as this one have helped to encourage reading as a communal activity? My guess is yes, seeing as literacy rates were likely low at this time, and silent reading, as we have learned, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Authority of the Gendered Voice

Our discussions about the authority of the author in connection with Yik Yak and audio books in particular led me to reflect upon the authority that gender of the speaker lends to a work. In our patriarchal society, men are often perceived as more competent than women. Does this dichotomy hold true when interacting with a voice only, as opposed to a physical person?

I know that I am certainly guilty of favoring a male voice over a female voice at times. Sometimes a higher pitched voice just grates on my nerves, which is a characteristic of female voices as opposed to male voices. I’m all for female empowerment, but for whatever reason, I decided to change the voice of Siri on my iPhone from female to male. I initially made the switch because the male voice was a new and different option that had not been available before, but I have yet to change it back, even though I had no problem with the female voice. Perhaps part of me perceives the male voice as having more authority in answering my questions or giving me directions?

When it comes to audio books, the easy answer would be to have a male narrator voice the male characters and a female narrator voice the female characters. Unfortunately, having even one additional narrator isn’t entirely realistic; which gender is preferable by the larger audience, then? I don’t want a masculine sounding female character any more than I want to listen to a male hero without a deep enough voice. Without the ability to see the faces of the characters, the listener needs to be able to distinguish between characters based on the voice alone.

Television and radio commercials seem to have decided that listeners more readily respond to male voices. As much as I want to say that women can be just as authoritative as men, I have to agree that part of me is more likely to be swayed into agreement or disagreement by a male voice. Perhaps this is a result of growing up in a patriarchal society, where newscasters are mainly male and announcers for sporting events and movie or television previews boast a deep masculine voice.

Interestingly, I don’t believe I have quite as clear-cut biases when it comes to the authors of traditional (i.e. not audio) books. I agree that the name of the author, as we discussed in relation to J.K. Rowling, does lend some credibility to the story. However, I am not more or less inclined to pick up a book based on the gender of the author alone. Both male and female authors have the same ability to write a quality story, regardless of the genre. In terms of character voice, a male author has an advantage over a female author when it comes to creating a plausible male character, although a good author will be able to easily cross gender lines. Manipulating the decibels of one’s physical voice is not quite as simple.

Are Board Games Losing Relevance?

Are board games headed down the same path as printed books – that is, toward extinction? Similar to the connection between printed books and e-books, board games have evolved to suit the interests and attention spans of an increasingly connected audience, from desktop computerized versions to video games playable on the television as well as mobile devices. However, this change in gaming culture raises some important questions, aside from the obvious issues concerning the significance of traditional board games in a digital world. Specifically, how does mobile or virtual gaming affect how players interact with one another and their investment in the game itself? Do mobile versions of traditional board games offer unique affordances that serve to benefit both the players and the integrity of the game? One specific example of a transition from board game to mobile gaming version can be found in The Settlers of Catan. By looking at the history of printed books and their continued relevance in the face of e-readers, one can conclude that board games such as The Settlers of Catan are far from losing their influence in the world of gaming.

Board games actually predate some of the earliest evidence of writing with an alphabet, so the fact that they have retained their relevance for this long is a good sign. Part of the reason that board games remain so popular is that they can help individuals develop their intelligence while also providing a form of entertainment and helping to stave off boredom. Developing intelligence is best accomplished through strategy board games, which actually are not commonly associated with most mainstream American board games (cue thoughts of Monopoly and Candy Land). One must look to Europe, and more specifically Germany, for examples of quality board games that rely upon strategic gameplay. One prominent example is the popular game The Settlers of Catan, which exists as both a traditional board game and an iPad gaming app. (Other forms of the game exist as well, such as a two-player card game, but for the purpose of comparison, only the aforementioned board game and iPad app are relevant.)

While the casual observer might conclude that an iPad version of a game would automatically become more popular than a large and cumbersome board game, sales of The Settlers of Catan board game suggest otherwise. The board game continues to sell well, and expansions are continually being produced. Furthermore, the iPad app is simply an electronic version of the board game, which leads to its own set of challenges. Tedious actions such as board setup are expedited with the iPad, while the interaction between players that is a hallmark of board games is severely limited. Ultimately, players looking for a communal experience will be drawn to the affordances of the traditional Catan board game; in fact, one of the goals in making an iPad version of the game was to attract members of this digital generation back to the traditional board game experience.

E-books have yet to push aside the desire for printed books, in part because parents who grew up with the latter continue to purchase them for their children. Will there eventually be a shift in such an acceptance in both the realm of books and board games? I for one do not foresee such a shift occurring, in part due to the ability of board games to bring people together. Times and electronic technology may change, but the technology necessary to make board games will remain much the same.

Oh, Those Illustrations!

In making my book enhancement, a book of children’s nursery rhymes, my main goal was to enhance the original content of the nursery rhyme collection rather than augmenting the physical form of the book. I went about fulfilling this objective by adding QR codes to select rhymes that contained links to websites offering information about the original influences of the nursery rhymes. Additionally, I covered twelve pages with my occasionally tongue-in-cheek advice for parents about how to raise their children. This latter augmentation played with the notion of authority, since I by no means have any business telling parents how to raise their children. However, since the book was published by Parents Magazine and claimed to include a handy parenting guide, I decided that the inclusion of my own parenting guide could possibly be accepted by certain frazzled or otherwise unobservant parents without a second thought.

My version of a parenting guide was fun to make and not all that tricky. Similarly, assembling the QR codes was tedious work but not technically difficult. True, including the QR codes alongside rhymes and illustrations published in the 1970s resulted in a jarring effect. However, shattering the comforting aura of nursery rhymes and forcing the reader to actually participate in the reading of the text was one of my goals with this project. What proved to be the most challenging aspect of augmenting this particular book was figuring out how to approach the illustrations. The book came with lovely color illustrations from the 1970s, which made me hesitant to render the text completely illegible if it meant destroying the illustrations. At first, I wanted to create a sort of lift-the-flap concept to go along with my idea of disrupting the aura of the text. I was going to replace the current illustrations with images that depicted the people and/or events to which the rhymes actually refer. To avoid making parents browsing through the book uncomfortable, I would hide these new and improved illustrations beneath the originals. However, to do so would have involved coping each illustration, printing it, and pasting it over the pasted-on image of my choosing. That would not have been impossible, except I discovered that nearly all of the color illustrations in the book take up the majority of the page surrounding the text, as opposed to one square or rectangular area. Thus, there was really no way to create a lift-the-flap without neglecting some part of the original illustration, which would have looked incredibly sloppy.

The beautiful illustrations drew me to the book in the first place, so I don’t wish they did not exist. I do wish that the illustrations had taken up less space on each page, although I guess the point is that the text and the illustrations share equal responsibility in telling the story of the nursery rhyme. More accurate illustrations would have helped me to fully fulfill my goal of augmenting the aura of the book. Perhaps my hesitation to destroy or irreversibly augment the physical book was my downfall here.

Book Marketing as a Reading Revolution

The more I think about ways in which our approach to reading has changed over the years, the more my mind returns to the idea of marketing books. This mainly applies to younger generations, although older individuals are not immune to the marketing power of the book industry.

Whether walking through a bookstore or perusing e-books online, one would be hard-pressed not to find at least one book whose cover has been changed to reflect the blockbuster film or television show based off of the book. Such practices can be detrimental to the reader, for the depiction of the characters on the cover prevents the reader from forming his own visual portrayals of the characters in his head. I know that for me, visualizing the characters and the action while I read was one of the most attractive aspects of reading books. Also, the transition from books to movies or television has reversed in recent years; now, some books (often aimed at the Young Adult demographic) are based upon television shows, featuring weak plotlines and even weaker characterization beyond what has been portrayed onscreen. Usually, such novels make me glad that whoever made the mistake of thinking they could be an author is not also the screenwriter.

Another form of marketing appears in conjunction with physical toys. One specific example that comes to mind as we approach the holiday season is the popular Elf on the Shelf doll. Although I did not grow up with this increasingly popular tradition, I have learned that in addition to the doll, there exists an accompanying book to explain the purpose of the doll to children. In this case, at least in terms of marketing, there appears to be a focus on selling the doll, with the book included as more of an afterthought. Within bookstores in general, particularly in the children’s book section, many books are displayed alongside stuffed animals to attract the attention of young readers. However, are these children even interested in the story, or just the colorful toy? Does having a tangible object enhance the reading experience for them?

The perceived need to appeal to consumers visually and tangibly makes me wonder if television is significantly altering how we perceive books. Is it not enough to sell books based on merit alone? Must all books hoping to achieve bestseller status possess the possibility of being turned into a Hollywood blockbuster? I would certainly say that the ways in which books are marketed to potential audiences, particularly in terms of the close relationship between books and television, marks a reading revolution.

Year in review: apps

Based off previous discussions in class, it seems like a lot of people did not see the utility of an iPad for education. At surface level – what is it really except for a large iPhone? What can you do with it that you can’t on an iPhone? Below I outline my top apps for using iPad’s as an educational tool.


Notability ($2.99)

This app allows you to hand write your notes and upload them to any of your cloud accounts making it easy to share with classmates or access anywhere on the go. You can record audio, video, or pictures and embed them directly into your class notes. In addition you can also annotate PDF’s which is huge for anyone who is constantly reading for their classes.

Microsoft Word (free)

The quinessential word processing suite. Download the Microsoft Word app and sign in with your Davidson login for free access to the service. Bonus – connect it to your dropbox to save and edit files on the go.

Evernote (free)

Evernote is one of my favorite content management applications. It allows you to save articles via web clipper which you can access from any device. It’s not as pretty as OneNote, but I like to use it for shorter lists and reminders.

OneNote (free)

One note is my favorite note taking app. Its clean, intuitive interface allows for more easy organizing than evernote, and, bonus, you can open any microsoft powerpoint, word document, excel file etc. in it and save your notes on that particular file in the same document that you opened it in. Additionally, it gives you the option to zoom in and out so you can see pics/text from way up close, or zoom out and organize it.


Synch your iPad with a cloud drive of your choosing and it will be like you are able to carry all your notes around with you, and access them for easy reading anytime. These are just two of my favorites, but there are many more.

dropbox (free)

Dropbox is one of the easiest file management systems. The desktop version is perhaps the most robust, and once you download it you have the option to save files you are working on straight from your computer to the cloud making sure that you will always be able to access them on the fly.

google drive (free)

I love to use Google Drive as my word processing suite – especially if I am just getting started on a research project. It enables me to keep notes, files, and any other research materials in one folder accessible from anywhere. This is a useful tool to keep your desktop uncluttered, but also allows you to edit documents straight from your drive on the ipad, vs the two step process you have to do with dropbox and microsoft word.


Wolfram Alpha (free)

One of the best reference apps hands down – a must have for the life sciences.

myHomework Student Planner (free)

For those who integrate their academic calendars with their personal ones and find it utterly confusing and frustrating – there is a whole slew of course management apps that allow you to input your class schedule, office hours, project deadlines, homework etc.

Study Buddy ($.99)

For those of us who are not as on top of the ball as we would like to be, this app will shame you into studying by providing hard data when you are not. Study Buddy maps your alleged “study time” and presents a visualization of how much of that time was spent studying, taking a break, or procrastinating.

moodle (free)

A great app that allows you to access course syllabi, class readings, and upload assignments.


Ted Talks (free)

I am sure that everyone at this point has seen at least one ted talk. I consider myself a fanatic and watch them religiously, but it was surprisingly my iPad that turned me on to them. The app gives you the option to choose the amount of time you have to watch a video, giving you options like “something funny” or “inspiring.” Would I like to watch something inspiring in 5 minutes or less? Yes please!

Itunes U (free)

The precursor to moocs, Itunes U is like a podcast version of the online webinars that have started to take over higher edu. I am really impressed with this app as it has only become more robust over time. Access courses from MIT, Stanford, Harvard or Duke (…) from your dorm room here on campus.

Lynda (Free)

Lynda is the digital counterpart to Itunes U and gives you access to tutorials ranging from computer science to graphic design to public speaking. And, as a Davidson Student, you get to access it for free!

Star Walk ($.99)

There are numerous apps to check out in the star gazing department and, from my experience, they are all worth it. Technology usually keeps people inside, so it is refreshing to see an app that does the opposite of that.

see also; Khan Academy


Kindle ($.99)

Amazon offers a wider selection of books over iBooks – especially in the textbook department. Open amazon in your browser to download textbooks and required reading with one click. The great thing about ebooks is that they are often cheaper (and lighter!) than your average textbook. Another bonus from amazon is that they allow you to rent books instead of buying them which reduces the price significantly. This feature also allows you to buy the ebook version of a textbook you may be waiting on to come in the mail for that first week of class that you don’t have your book in yet and awkwardly have to ask someone sitting next to if you can borrow it to do the homework.

flipboard (free)

Flipboard is your one stop shop for all your news sources. It aggregates all the recent articles from the sources you follow and allows you to literally flip through them, saving them as you please. Hands down one of the prettiest interfaces and most robust selection.

Sure iPads seem like a luxury item, but, given the right software they have the ability to amplify your learning routine. What were everyone’s favorite apps this year?

The History and Future of Aviation Navigation

What happens if you fly an airplane into a cloud? What if you then have to land with visibility of less than 1000 feet? These are situations known as Instrument Meteorological Conditions meaning pilots are unable to fly or navigate by outside reference points. The solution to this situation as a pilot is actually quite simple- look inside the airplane and ignore your bodily sensations. Put absolute trust in your instrumentation and avionics.

After our discussion of maps, it is easy to understand why people would be reluctant to do this. Most of us have attempted to navigate our cars using Google Maps or some other GPS only to have it lead you to the wrong place or run out of power forcing you to revert to other options. A paper map on the other hand is always there for you. It will never malfunction unless it is destroyed in some form. With this said, why are pilots ranging from military, to airliners, to general small aircraft leaving their paper maps at home?

When we discuss the affordances of digital mapping technology, we referred primarily to devices that were designed for something else entirely (such as a iPhone), or a device made to be as economical as possible in a fairly inconsequential setting. As such, it is ok for these devices to fail.

Interestingly, mapping technology that does not fail is becoming more and more commonplace in aviation.  Airplanes are both extremely expensive and full of redundancies that function as failsafes. If you need to drive to a friends house, it is reasonable to trust the ¢99 app for your cell phone. If you need to fly a $400 million airliner carrying hundreds of people over an ocean or in conditions with no visual reference or ability to stop and reorient yourself, the technology must not fail. This is why aerospace companies have developed technology such as this.

Boeing 737 Avionics Photo credit Deonne Hiller
Boeing 737 Avionics
Photo credit Deonne Hiller

As cryptic as this display of lights may look, it is as close to failsafe digital navigation as is possible to achieve. Due to the build in redundancies and failsafes, this digital mapping technology will not fail unless the aircraft is practically destroyed.

The alternative to a “glass cockpit” as pictured above is the sectional chart, plotter, calculator, and E6B

VFR navigation Photo credit Sporty's FBO
VFR navigation
Photo credit Sporty’s FBO

Believe it or not, the print map is actually much more difficult to use, especially in a cramped or dark cockpit.

When one examines the affordances of each type of navigation, it becomes clear how far superior the digital option is, unlike with most widely available reading technology, which largely depends on the user with no clear consensus on which is better- more like a set of pros and cons to outline each option.

Here, on the other hand, is a fully automatic, integral part of the actual airplane whereas the paper maps are cumbersome, difficult to use, and far more likely to fail. Since these maps are not tasked with portraying a narrative or story, other affordances such as feel of a book in your hands or the tactile nature of a touchscreen become less important. When digital mapping technology of this magnitude developed by the largest aerospace companies in the world, it is far safer and easier to rely completely on the digital version and simply leave the paper version at home.

The Potential of this Class in the Future

I really want to see this class succeed the next time it is held. I entirely feel that davidson students spend too little time not only reading but thinking about reading and other mundane activities and how they have been and will be shaped by the decisions we make as intellectuals. As a discussion based class (which would have benefitted so much more as a seminar), I feel that the first few weeks of class should be dedicated on general concepts instead of just history alone. Going over theory for what books represent and what remixing means and allow the class to get comfortable with each other’s thoughts and backgrounds before letting us just dive in on the history. I know that sounds a little too “new age” for any institution but mainly what bothered me throughout the class was how little we were inspired to really create project and ideas that considered by the book as a historical object and its potential for the future. If you want us to enhance a book, make us convince you that our idea makes books better and if you want is to remix one, show us what a great book remix is! I loved the work I did in my class but it mainly came from talking my ideas out with friends over actually having to explain and defend them in class which may have been a rough idea to start but one that would make more sense in the long run.

Another thought would be to talk about our blog posts. It would be great if our Friday’s were spend going over the weekly blog post with all ideas that we submitted (or one person wrote a post for the whole class to respond to). Either way, I feel that the quality of the posts and our discussion would have heightened just from validation on these posts alone.

Overall, this class has so much potential and while this was a trial session, I would love to see this class becoming the high point for both digital and English scholars alike

The potential for the Graphic Novel

After exploring all of the potential of digital narratives throughout this class, I am now sure that at least in the near future, the graphic novel/comic books has the greatest potential on a digital format. Here are a few reasons for such a conclusion:

Cost: To purchased the full Sandman series in color, one must spend hundreds of dollars even if one finds the best packaged deals. It is an extreme investment and one I have never been capable of making despite my absolute love of the first book. Similar to the savings made on text books, a mainstream shift towards online graphic novels (and online drawing and colorization disappointingly/ideally) would easily dampen prices on all books while allowing color to never be sacrificed.

Depth of field: On of the most impressive online works we saw in class in my opinion featured a single graphic novel frame in one moment expand into an entire field of vision, creating a second “frame” that could not have existed on a single page of a physical books. The concept of abstract, non-linear framing is easily one setting that sees much more benefit from images than just text alone and could easily create new artistic potential.

Sound: While comic book sound text bubbles have become standard displays of language not only within comics but film and novelizations itself (Batman and Who Censored Roger Rabbit respectively), the creation of in text, possible even soundtracked by established musicians or DJs could create a multimedia experience that experimental medium should be the first to explore.

Thoughts on Yik-Yak Challege

About a month ago, Dr. Sample asked each of us to post on Yik-Yak using our actual names. I took up that challenge with the explicit goal to make the use of my name the only objectionable element of my post. I composed a short post recommending Davidson students to read David Mitchell’s number9dream, as they all should because it is a wonderful beautiful book, and within the first few minutes of sending out the post, it was already deleted. The reaction felt knee-jerk at best, students inspired to keep the anonymity of all posts even if that requires to delete something innocuous. I immediately posted a response Yak about how everyone on Yik-Yak must have despised Cloud Atlas (because I am really going for some top level humor here), using my name again, which was also deleted. The third and final post consisted of me writing a simple, honest statement that I was disappointed in Yik-Yak’s drive to delete posts about reading, something that Davidson students honestly still want to do for fun from most conversations I’ve had. The post lasted the longest of the three and received a few up votes in agreement but as my name still authored the Yak, a comment stating “Dude stop,” gave away that my authorship would never be allowed no matter the context.


While I do not want to make Yik-Yak a simply annoying place because of my posts, I still do feel that such transparency must be accepted and pushed for on campus. Without even an attempt for our online voices to be ourselves, we only let Yik-Yak’s explicit hatred carry on.

The Animated Cover: The Future of Selling a Book (or a more boring title that Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover Yadda Yadda Yadda)

One topic that I feel we did not give enough focus on in class was the process selling a physical book compared to a digital copy and what are the affordances of each process. For the physical book, the packaging process is key. The size of the font relative to the audience, the type of paper, and the choice of purchasing a hard or soft copy all affect the reading experience and how such an experience is sold to a reader but with the popularization of e-books, these choices once defined by the author/publisher/powers that be are now controlled by the reader, which of course benefits the consumers but limits the publisher in how a book can be marketed to interested audiences. But, one aesthetic choice a reader still cannot make is a book’s cover. For a physical book, a cover can sell a period (Recent so-so movie Listen Up Phillip took inspiration from Novel covers from the 70s to present to mark the temporal change of one of its primary characters as seen here) and note a books relevancy for new generations.


Gravity’s Rainbow 1st edition cover
21st Century Cover illustrated by prolific comic book artist Frank Miller

By comparison, the affordances of a e-book cover come with both gains and losses. The ability to animate a cover as a continuous gif is a sensible, if not yet fully realized, aesthetic. A few examples can be seen here: Interactive, touch sensitive books are another potential form of expansion, or at least a function that would allow for updated covers that a user could swipe to to choose as his/her own. It any sense, the amount of storage, animative, and interactive potential of the book cover has yet to be fully realized.

Music and Lyric Videos: An Exploration into the Evolution of Displaying Song Lyrics


The highest rated comment on the lyric video for Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” simply states “That moment when you realize the lyric video is better than the official music video…” Between both videos, it is by far the most supported comment with 1700 thumbs ups over thumbs down, 1338 votes greater than the top comment on the music video, despite the music video’s 265,708,155 more views.

No matter if the lyric video’s classic Hollywood/noir aesthetic subdues almost all of the song’s rampant energy and Iggy Azalea looks as if she is about to walk off stage, these numbers show that the lyric video’s placeholder status for cheap ad revenue and a sign of greater videos to come is no longer the case. Viewers see the lyric video as a necessary extension to their listening experience, something worthy of comparison to much more artistic music video endeavors. While recognizing the popularity of lyric videos is a step in the right direction, understanding their potential is just as necessary. Throughout this paper, I will determine the potential of the lyric video and other digital forms of transcription such as through both their affordances and the affordances of their predecessor, the printed lyric sheet. Through analysis of these forms of displaying lyricism, I will display how a once auxiliary document, meant purely to clarify, transformed into a complementary object meant to establish the mood or create explicit meaning within a single song.

The Printed Origins

Despite the widespread release of lyric videos at present, the practice of including lyrics with an album’s release has always remained inconsistent. Even today, albums as lyrically important as Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city lack lyrics for any song on the album (although the producers, writers, instrumentalists, and featuring artists are all given proper reference) despite Lamar’s newest single, “i,” receiving a lyric video immediately upon its release. Artists have never been clear on why such inconsistencies exist throughout their releases but David Marsh on his book about the iconic song “Louie Louie,” also titled Louie Louie, offers an interesting perspective as an academic who has been denied the right to the official lyrics of the song which is the focus of his entire book. He writes “ And that’s OK. Perhaps the whimsical guardians of rock ‘n’ roll spirit have, on this occasion, proved more helpful than they intended. Maybe it’s better for a book about a song with what surely must be the most notorious set of lyrics in creation, let alone rock ‘n’ roll, to contain not a single, solitary scrap of them. If only to show that the point ain’t just the lyrics” (Frith 258). Marsh contends that even though having access to the lyrics of a song are important, they do not eclipse that value of the song alone. A musical artists is not a poet, although their lyrics may be “poetry,” and any time an artist releases a song, he or she must choose if the lyrics will add to the listening experience, or demystify it. Thus, we see the first primary affordance of written lyrics is the ability to contextualize an abstract object, the song, into the concrete. Such a contextualization allows a listener to still experience a song on his or her own terms but have access to more tools at the same time to make a more full analysis possible. This was most definitely the reason that The Beatles included printed lyrics on the back of vinyl sleeves for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first time in pop record history (INGLES).

The printed lyrics of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

As explained by Howard Massey, The Beatles “were going to go for something really, completely different with this album because they were no longer constrained by having to think in terms of playing any of these songs live anymore,” and thus, were able to create concepts both musically and lyrically that were much more complex than their standard work (INGLES). By including the lyrics, The Beatles allowed their songs to remain accessible while also not sacrificing any artistic integrity, allowing radio DJs to play any song off the album and immediately read the lyrics after, treasuring both the song itself and context the lyrics create.

As music moved toward the digital age, lyric distribution became widespread. Countless cheap, simple websites dedicated themselves to anonymously transcribing lyrics to any and all music available (Harvey). In comparison to their on paper counterparts included in albums, these websites are the e-books of lyric transcription, presented no differently than the material one may receive from an artist while offering no greater online functionality than ease of access. At best, these websites offered accurate information despite an artist’s consent but at worse, they misquote lyrics and incorrectly contextualize a song as something it is explicitly not. For example on her essay on lyrics in the music video age, Nancy Vickers considers the issue of mis-transciption in pop-culture critic Andrew Goodwin’s analysis of George Michael’s “Father Figure.” By positing Michael as a lovelorn, emotional singer with sex appeal (an easy interpretation to make in context of his sultry vocals and soft synth backing instrumentation), Goodwin transcribes the line “I have had enough of crime” with “‘I have had enough of crying’” (Vickers 10).

By transcribing these lyrics incorrectly, Goodwin replaces the song’s “ominous” tone with something much more “innocuous,” taking away the dramatic, albeit a bit disturbing, tone of the original song (10).

As an academic, Goodwin fails to set a standard of unofficial citation within his own writing, making it challenging to expect an anonymous source on a “crude cyberstore front for Google-abetted advertising money” to hold him/herself to a higher standard (Harvey). Thus despite their ease of access, online lyrics, without endorsement from the artist, lack the priority of accuracy necessary for their affordances to be realized.

The Rise of a Genius

Given the popularity of online lyric websites, accurate or not, (formerly known as “Rap Genius”) came as a natural evolution of the form. If standard lyric websites were the e-books of transcription, Genius is the novel that could only exist through the computer. The website not only offers transcriptions of lyrics that can be modified for accuracy by user recommendation that follows a similar editing hierarchy to Wikipedia but allows users to annotate those transcriptions to “translate” their meaning as well (Harvey). This makes Genius the four dimensional, ever changing object that applies the internet’s affordance to share and communicate across all boundaries to the fullest. Those annotations are voted upon by users for their “accuracy” which in turn raises or lowers the annotators “Rap IQ,” creating a hierarchy in which the best users not only contribute often but well. While uncommon, artists will sometimes clarify their own lyrics and are still enabled to annotate the lyrics of others (oddly, lyrics “translated” by artists can still have alternate “translations” from fans). Over time, Genius has become the most popular lyric transcription and annotation website online, raising over $15 million in funding to expand beyond rap to all genres of music, literature, poetry, law documents, sports statistics and editorials, speeches, and any other documents worthy of interpretation (Harvey).

A screenshot of a transcription from
A screenshot of a transcription from

But despite its popularity, Genius does not align with the initial affordances of the printed lyric. It does not show but tell. All lyrics have potential for meaning and every meaning is relative in “rightness” to its contemporaries and because users are rewarded with IQ points for annotations that may only be slightly correct (one receives 10 points for a “good” annotation and 20 for a “great” one, implying that one can score points without ever being the most correct, which in itself is still arbitrary), annotations come in mass supply and remain contested over conversed.

Such annotations lack the context of music as well. Instrumentation is never referenced within a transcription itself, a user must reference it on their own within the annotations, and sheet music cannot be annotated on Genius independently. Thus by the form of the website, Genius assigns all explicative value of a song to that song’s lyrics compared to the piece as a whole. Without any reference to the music of the song, the lyrics only tell part of the story. For example, near the end of Real Estate’s “All the Same” the continuous downward shift of guitar chords transitions into a mirror image of upward chords without any lyrical reference within the song. It is a beautiful moment that references the monotony of the line “Oh there’s the day, oh what a shame/It’s OK, that’s all the same/It’s alright, it’s ok, because the night is just another day” and the transformation the narrator has from a negative view of such a monotony (the downward chords) to a more hopeful perspective (the upward chords). Even within the lyrics, little is mentioned through typography or through annotation of the transcriber about how the lyrics are spoken. By allowing annotations but limiting annotations only to lyrics, Genius separates itself from the traditional printed lyric sheet as printed lyrics always existed as an auxiliary instrument to contextualize the greater whole, but not explain it. Thus, Genius does not expand upon the affordances of the printed lyric but limits them to a single defining role, explanation.

The founders of the website understand this role but possibly not all of its implications. They compare their website to the Talmud, a digestion of the Torah into “something accessible and knowable,” but by focusing on such trivial knowledge, the meaning of any lyric, Genius loses sight of allowing users to gain the wisdom responsible for understanding how these lyrics function within a greater culture (Harvey). New York Times writer Willy Staley comments that the “joy of listening to rap music,” “made up of arcane local vernacular, references to pop culture, snippets of other rap lyrics and even music-industry, inside-baseball jargon,” “is having all [the lyrics] unfold for you as you become more familiar with it” and as one becomes more comfortable within the genre, one begins to understand that “plenty of rap lyrics have absolutely no meaning at all” (Staley) and that many of these lyrics depend much more on “matter of delivery (or a convenient rhyme) than dictionary meaning” (Harvey). Thus while Genius offers massive amounts of information, little of this information results in a more realized understanding of music as a whole.

Despite the general social critique of Genius coming across as harsh by academics and artists themselves (famously, Kool A. D. of Das Racist raps “ is white devil sophistry” on “Middle of the Cake” [if you need more information on what that means you can go here), the website is now explicitly part of our culture. It displays the natural nature of Western culture believing that art must have a meaning and despite the argument that not all songs do, it makes more sense to allow all songs to be open to interpretation than not. Like the online lyric websites before it, Genius cannot be assumed as a reliable accompaniment to one’s listening experience but a website displaying how the awareness of lyrics and their assumed meanings affects one’s listening experience in context of any and every other opinion.

Music and Lyric Videos

Before considering the relevancy of the lyric video at present, let us define the term. While the simplest definition would be a video that provides lyrics, the most treasured lyric videos go beyond such simple utility. They engage as much as they inform and as they normally are the first impression one makes with the music, must entertain. Thus to retain the focus of the video while giving them more purpose than not, I will be defining a lyric video as “a video in which a song is played and the song’s lyrics are the primary focus of the video.” With such a definition, we note the first lyric video as Bob Dylan’s 1965 “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (although it does not contain all the words to the song but the focus remains on them) but, the modern lyric video, the focus of this discussion, comes not from a historical basis but one of reaction and convenience to the proliferation of music on Youtube (Scott).

Youtube acts as a streaming service without the bounds of deals with music labels, nor the justification of what must define a “music video” on the website. Thus, early Youtube users vying for views would post simple videos playing a song (normally at a slightly different pitch to avoid copyright) accompanied with simple font displaying a song’s lyrics (which were about as correct as their lyric website counterparts).

As these videos, no matter their quality, would gain millions of view effortlessly, record labels began to post their own videos immediately after a songs release.

Originally, Katy Perry’s video teams posted videos that matched the simple aesthetic of her competition (Scott) but with the release of CeeLo Green’s “Fuck You” lyric video, a new potential for content synergy was naturally realized.

CeeLo’s lyric video featured dynamic typography with bold sans serif font that immediately make the text the primary focus of the video in a non-intimidating but entertaining fashion, which was vital to retain the songs bright tone despite the excessive amount of cursing. The text itself was backed by bright, simple, primary colors that again support the songs light tone. While these elements make for an exciting and engaging video, especially for such colorful lyrics, the relevancy of this video comes not from just the video itself but how it connects to the final product, the official music video. “Fuck You”’s official music video (or “F U” or “Forget You” which also had the same music video to a censored version of the song) features child, teenage, and adult versions of CeeLo Green saying his inappropriate catch phrase to the lover he can never have.

In each segment of the video despite CeeLo’s age, the setting remains a bright, colorful slice of classic Americana featuring diners, doo wop singers, classic cars, and other signifiers of a more innocent time. Thus when analyzing both the lyric and music video in tandem, both produce a singular aesthetic and mood that creates a smooth experience for a viewer to transition from the initial point of consumption, the lyric video, to the final point, the music video. By having such a connected and focused viewing experience, the affordance of the lyric video becomes not contextualizing what the lyrics mean in context to the song but contextualizing a mood for those lyrics and the song to connect.

This is why Ariana Grande’s “Problem” lyric and music video synergy was a failure in the eyes of viewers. The lyric video promoted a sultry, subdued environment that the music video did not match with its bright tones, 60s theme, and ridiculous, ridiculous wigs. While such disconnect did not affect the music video’s extremely high view count (now over 300 million), it weakened a potential bond between videos.

Interesting Deviations of Form, the Future of the Lyric Video

Given the mass of lyric videos available, I want to highlight two videos, both from this year, that display the potential and application of lyric videos moving forward.

The first, “Attak” featuring Danny Brown by Rustie, has Danny Brown lip syncing his verses behind a white backdrop with the lyrics of his verse layered on top of the frame. The lyrics at first fit a traditional karaoke format by turning green as Danny Brown recites them but after a few verses, the lyrics transform into a string of bold, massive 3D text that tracks right to left across the screen at breakneck speeds that match Brown’s pace. As the lyrics and the song become more intense, the lyrics begin to twist and contort on the screen to the point that one could realize that the text was still Brown’s verse but not able to read any of it. This pattern repeats throughout the song with the occasional break in texts to reveal an emoji translation instead (but more on that later). By all accounts, this is a lyric video, the lyrics are the primary focus of video and all of the lyrics are featured within the song, but compared to other lyric videos, it promotes an aesthetic that is so intense that even the lyrics itself cannot handle it.

The second video, an unofficial interpretation of Rick Ross’s “Sanctified” featuring Big Sean and Kanye West, translates the entire song into emoji images. While a similar idea was applied in a smaller scale to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” this video essentially animates the emojis flipping back and forth between a group of images in rapid succession to create a charades like interpretation of the musical image. Jesse Hill, the video’s animator, limits his animation to a small space in the center of the frame, allowing one emoji to appear in space at a time (but their are exceptions), with other emojis acting as a frame for the center image throughout. Hill animated the emoji to translate the video in two fashions. The first uses facial expression emojis to mimic the facial expressions of the sampled vocalist while the second uses a variety of images to create charade like interpretations of what the three rappers are saying. Interestingly, Hill uses the second method of emojis to interpret the songs lyrics such as an innuendo for a blow job is displayed with eggplant and lip emojis (sorry to anyone that used the eggplant emoji literally). The effect of the video is bit cheesy and definitely of the moment but creates a lyric video that is almost universally accessible by transforming the lyrics into a format that defies a language barrier. It plays a role as a part lyric video and part Genius like annotation that above all keeps its entertainment value high but reveals potential for other “universal” lyric videos in the future.


How one consumes lyrics will always affect how one listens to music, be it annotations, videos, or simply the lyrics alone. By recognizing the values and issues of each lyric providing form, lyrics realize themselves as an evolutionary transformation similar to the book, one that has highly changed and adapted to new technologies while retaining elements of merit throughout each iteration of form. While both the future of the book and lyric transcription are never exactly certain, we can learn from both to see how where that future may lead.

Works Cited

Frith, Simon. “Quote Unquote.” Popular Music 14.2 (1995): 257-60. JSTOR. Cambridge University Press. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.
Harvey, Eric. “Footnote Records.” The New Inquiry. N.p., 3 July 2013. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.
INGLES, Paul, and Leslie SAMUELS-HALEY. “‘Sgt. Pepper,’ an Album That Shaped an Era.” Music Articles. Prod. Robert Siegel.       NPR. Washington DC, Washington DC, 2007. Radio. Transcript.
Scott, Tom. “A Brief History of Lyric Videos.” Tom Scott. N.p., 6 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Dec. 2014. <>.
Staley, Willy. “Lady Mondegreen and the Miracle of Misheard Song Lyrics.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 July         2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.
Vickers, Nancy J. “Lyric in the Video Decade.” Discourse 16.1, Improbable Dialogues: Encounters in Cultural Studies (1993): 6-27.  JSTOR. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.