My dissertation in 10 sentences

 

  1. Deploying intimacy and a retrofitted configuration of oikonomia as the lenses through which I historicized racialized, gendered, and class-specific processes of meaning making and boundary crossing in everyday work and life, I examined two major murder cases involving Chinese servants and two different efforts to legislate affective labor by Samuel Gompers’ American Federation of Labor and Mary Ellen Smith, respectively.  
     
  2. Rather than drawing clean and solid lines between the cases, groups, people, narratives, and contexts examined throughout this dissertation, I have instead decided to describe the diffusive texture of these lines in as many ways as I can. 
  3. As the noose tightened around his esophagus and his vision blackened, Wong did not die at that moment, but momentarily lost consciousness from asphyxiation.  

  4. Though Wong’s abductors intended for their disguises to be convincing, ironically, the abduction and the interrogation tactics used were completely inconsistent with a Southern lynching, and instead had all the hallmarks of modern policing and systematic planning. 

  5. Murmurs of racial and sexual transgressions were one of defining features of the Rosetta Baker murder case, with early speculation that the case involved “gigolos and dancing grandmothers hitting the jazz trail.” 

  6. Engler believed this to be the most viable motive, and claimed that Liu’s “Oriental calm suddenly snapped under the harsh reprimands of Mrs. Baker, and that he revenged himself for many alleged indignities by strangling her.” “Strangling,” Engler expertly asserted, “is a traditional Chinese method for putting an end to an enemy.”

  7. This resolution called on the American Federation of Labor “to endeavor to secure the passage of the law prohibiting the employment of white women and girls in establishments owned or controlled by Chinese and Japanese."  

  8. Just as the AFL was arguing that the sexually deviant and racially inferior coolie threatened American manhood, white racial purity, and the gains made by the labor movement, it was also beginning to become interested in organizing and incorporating white women workers. 

  9. Part of what makes these efforts to legislate affective labor and intimacy interesting is in how they policed racial and gender boundaries, the labor of white working women and Chinese men, and the possibility for interracial intimate relations at the same time, without formally being anti-miscegenation laws.  

  10. Settler feminists like Smith paved the way for Canadian women to not only become enfranchised and attain political and economic rights and full(er) citizenship, they also saw themselves as having a unique role to play in shaping the nascent Canadian nation and upholding its white racial purity and Anglo political inheritance.

The Heretical Ph.D. Workshop

This Tuesday, April 28, I'll be sharing my experiences and providing practical advice on how to transition into a non-academic career after graduate school at the UC Berkeley Career Center. 

I've won over $100,000 in scholarship funding throughout the course of my doctoral studies. I was courted by academic presses to publish my innovative dissertation. I've won awards for my teaching. More than these, I loved the idea of devoting my life to the creation and dissemination of knowledge to help better society. When I entered my doctoral program, I fully expected to thrive as a professor at an elite university. I had no idea that I'd be happier and better as a marketing professional.  

When I was on the academic job market, there were only 10 or so tenure-track jobs in my field in a given year. I was one of two finalists for two different positions, one in Missouri and the other in Ohio. For me, this was like being given the choice of whether I wanted to be shot in the face or in my stomach. 

It dawned on me that I didn't want to spend the next seven years living in places I didn't like, subjecting my future to the whims of external forces I couldn't control, in a job with poor compensation for the hours worked. I spent all of my twenties in graduate school; I didn't want to spend all of my thirties mapping out a stable life that I'll get to enjoy in my forties. 

After having spent seven years in academia under the crushing weight of its feudal structure and stifling culture, I wanted to choose for myself how the next stage of my life would unfold.

I knew I was too bright to be suckered into the myth that the R1 tenure-track position was the only thing I was trained for and meant to do.

I'm here to tell you that you're too smart to fall for this trap too. 

Learn more about my story at the workshop. 

 

Exploring Career Opportunities: Designing Your Life

April 28th    5:00-6:30   Career Center

Are you curious about the alternative career paths for PhDs? This panel program explores work and life beyond the academy. PhD professionals will discuss their career transitions, and the broader concerns of navigating work life balance and organizational cultures.

Panelists:

Dr. Nathaniel Dumas, Resident Ethnographer at Idea Couture, 

Dr. Jason Kim, Director of Digital Content at Parallax Press,

and Dr. Peggy Szymanski, Senior Research Scientist at Palo Alto Research Center, Inc.
 

RSVP for this workshop by logging into  http://callisto.berkeley.edu    click on the “Events” tab on the top menu,  select “Career Center Programs and Workshops” and search for this presentation under “Graduate Student & PhD Programs.”

.

Bunny Friday

I was at a Creative Mornings Oakland event yesterday, and they had this plastic tub of chubby little dwarf rabbits for participants to hold onto during the session. "It's Bunny Friday, today," a too cheerful woman shouted at me over the syncopating beats of the opening bars of "Ice Ice Baby," which shook the room without irony. She hands me a bunny. I grab it without comment and go to my seat.

I whispered to the dreaming brown-and-white balloon in my lap, his tiny ears twitching ever so slightly. "They don't have bunnies in grad school."

The Future of the Publishing Industry

I was recently sent a questionnaire about the future of the publishing industry as a member of the Young to Publishing Group. Here are my answers!

What’s your prediction for the role of the long-form narrative in a world of 140 characters, single images, and six-second videos?

Predictions aren't necessary; the change has already happened. The two are merely different kinds of content with different contexts in different dosages, and both authors and publishers will need to position themselves as content brokers to stay relevant and connect with their audiences.


What's the relationship between digital publishing and traditional publishing going to be in 20 years?

I think we will see a lot more hybrid models due to how high the bar for entry is in the traditional publishing game in a world of near-infinite content produced by near-infinite content creators of varying degrees of quality and market viability. 

I would also expect e-book subscription services like Oyster and Scribd to become mainstream, much like how streaming services have taken power away from cable TV. If publishers are to avoid being handcuffed by this or any other disruption and not go the way of the TV or music industry, we need to make the waves, and not only react to them. 

 
If you could change any one thing about our industry at large, be it something departmental or wider spread—an element of the editorial process, cross-departmental communication, social media engagement, technological adoption, the distribution model—what would it be?

I'm in the 3% of the publishing industry. That is, I am part of the 3% of publishing professionals who identify as Asian (the rest of the breakdown is 90% white, 3% Latino, 1% African-American).
More meaningful diversity in leadership and in subject matter would be nice. 

There is also a pronounced gender gap in publishing salaries. In sales & marketing alone, the average gap between men and women's salaries is close to a mind-boggling $40,000

Not only does the lack of diversity matter in the publishing workforce, but there's also a lack of diversity in the substance of the books. Children's books written by or about people of color numbered less than 600 titles in 2014, a pattern that has held for more than a decade. #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Seriously.  

Beyond diversity, I think we'll see a shift in the publishing industry from focusing on intermediaries (booksellers/sales reps, libraries, etc.) to the end consumer at all levels of publishing: editorial, marketing, and sales. The age of personalized marketing and content for books is here.
 

Please feel free to include any additional thoughts or predictions about how the publishing model is shifting.

With millennials and digital natives coming of age and entering into the industry, I suspect that publishing will change more in the next 20 years than they have in the last 100 years. I think it's an exciting time to be in publishing. 

Remember, if you're not changing, everything else is. 

The Mouse That Got Away

At the beginning of summer, I gave a speech at the Ethnic Studies graduation ceremony, and you could say that the address (provided below) summarized well my sentiments as I looked at what's next for me and the many others in my position facing the end of a hard seven years of poverty and intellectual labor, in an inhospitable academic job market, in an economy that is doubly hard on foreigners, with absolutely nothing waiting for me... 

But a lot has happened to me over the summer, including becoming the incoming Digital Media Director at Parallax Press (how does a historian become a digital marketing director?), as well being appointed to teach Ethnic Studies part-time at St. Mary's College this fall.

I am so happy and love both of my new positions tremendously -- my new colleagues and co-workers have been great, and I feel energized and purposeful.

Needless to say, these days I feel like the mouse that got away in the fable I reference in the speech.  

For those that are still struggling and barely hanging on out there, please take my experience to heart: you only need to change direction if you're not happy with the way things are going. All it requires is courage and creativity. 

When I was in 3rd grade, my friend and I decided to become geniuses. As we sat waiting for the math test to make its way to our row of desks, I closed my eyes and told myself these things: “I’m a genius. Everything is easy. I can do this.”

Armed with these crazy ideas, my friend and I solved the math test at a frantic pace. And so when I saw that my friend had put his pencil down at the 5 minute mark, I got up with a sudden jolt and our second race began — who could turn in their test the fastest? Who would be the singular class genius?

Although we did our best to outdo the other, we both reached the teacher’s desk at exactly the same time. I shot a grin at my friend, and he returned the most dignified nod that has ever been nodded by an eight-year old. Our teacher was not as pleased. Her head swiveled up and down like a broken see-saw as she looked down at the two tests, now a little damp with our sweat, then at us, then up at the clock, then back down at us again. She was befuddled. Unphased, my friend and I looked at each other knowingly, shrugged our shoulders, and said, “We’re gifted”, and returned to our seats. Of course, we both flunked the test.

If my early years in school were filled with bold declarations of genius and lessons rapidly learned, my years in graduate school in contrast have been a long, daily grind of attempting to convince myself that I am not the biggest failure in the room.

And so, I am not here to provide inspiration or the usual narrative of how my talents overcame everything. Octavia Butler wrote that we must forget relying on inspiration to do our work as “Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not.” She also added that we must forgo constantly sizing up how we are or aren’t capable, as “continued learning is more dependable than talent.” 

What Butler’s insight suggests is that our ability to flourish as thinkers and learners of color is tied to making habitual the practice of muddling through and continuing to question, just as we breathe and eat. Butler also wrote that “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.” And this is how I make sense of our collective struggle as Ethnic Studies scholars.

But struggling in this way is not a process that leaves you unscathed. For instance, I know that a grandson lost his grandmother. A brother lost his older brother. A daughter lost her father.

Furthermore, during my 7 years at Berkeley, I have witnessed the effects of the crushing financial burden increasingly placed on students and their families, the restructuring of this university through a neoliberal technocratic vision of Operational Excellence, and the creeping erosion of both public and higher education in this state and across the nation.  

And so, my friends, every student you see on this stage has had to fight tooth and nail to make it to this day, and had to learn to habitually overcome difficulties both personal and structural, every single day, just as we breathe and eat. So if there is reason to be optimistic, this is it: the people here before you prove that another future is possible.

And so I end with a short fable which describes so well what we have done, and what we must continue to do.

“Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At first it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when at last I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”

“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate the mouse. ("A Little Fable," by Franz Kafka).

Many of us have had, and will continue to grapple with, a future that is not to our liking — the trap that lays before us, or the cat that stalks from behind.

But I am so hopeful and so happy when I gaze across at these lovely faces that have in them the unmistakable mark of intelligence, compassion, courage, and resolve.

I see their smiles, and I am heartened. And so I smile too. We smile because we, together, have chosen to create a different future, have dared to turn away from the traps set before us, and have refused to become food for cats.

And so class of 2014, congratulations and let us continue on our way.

The Perils of Home: Domesticity and the Oriental Question

Friendly reminder that I will be giving a public talk tomorrow from noon to 1:30 PM at 223 Moses Hall (Institute for International Studies). 

The talk is based on research I'm currently doing for a chapter of my dissertation.

Hope to see you there!

Presentation Abstract:

On July 26, 1924, a young nursemaid named Janet Smith was found dead in front of an ironing board in the basement of her master’s residence located in the affluent neighborhood of Shaughnessy Heights in Vancouver. Six years later, matronly socialite and amateur actress Rosetta Baker would be found dead in her luxurious downtown San Francisco apartment on December 8, 1930 with two broken ribs, damage to her chest and throat, and a bed sheet tied around her neck. In both cases, a Chinese “houseboy” stood trial as the primary suspect, with Wong Foon Sing being accused of murdering Smith and Liu Fook for allegedly murdering Baker.

Drawing upon these cases, I ask: in what ways are transformations to the domestic sphere and the Oriental Question connected? As frontier and gateway societies, how were Vancouver and San Francisco troubled and shaped by the emergence of an idealized white womanhood on one hand, and the total success of the anti-Oriental movement on the other?

How to Start an E-Journal

Last year, I was approached by the department to start an e-journal.

I'm a fairly technologically savvy person so I didn't think publishing an e-journal would be all that difficult since everything would be done online or on the computer, but of course, things aren't that simple.

The good news is that e-publishing is booming right now, and there are many free resources to help produce professional-grade publications.

Thinking about Levels of Interaction

An e-journal has at least two levels of interaction:

1) the front end, i.e. the public face of the journal, which includes the journal itself, as well as the journal's website, and,

2) the back end, i.e. the behind-the-scenes administrative view of the journal, including the manuscript submission and revision system.

Content Managment System aka the back end layer

By far the most technologically demanding aspect of running a journal is the manuscript submission and review process, or the back end part of the e-publishing process.

Traditionally, one submitted manuscripts in hard copy (many times in triplicate) by snail mail. Reviewers are then assigned a copy to review, and a response is sent back, again by snail mail. Nowadays, many journals accept manuscripts via e-mail, though this process resembles the old school way of doing things as authors and editorial staff still shuffle files back and forth. 

Many journals have instead been turning to the web to streamline the entire process, taking cues from the explosion in user-generated content, new media, and cloud computing. 

What has made the launching and management of journals easier and far more accessible is the development of online content management software, the most prevalent being Open Journal Systems.

Content management systems like OJS generate everything you need to manage a journal, all in one place. No knowledge of programming or web design is necessary, which is a good thing since developing such a back end interface from scratch is no easy task!

If I've lost you already, think of it as a more robust form of a blog interface: authors can upload their manuscripts through the journal website, while journal staff can log into their website and manage all submissions online.

Once revisions are completed and the manuscript is ready for final copy, OJS then moves everything along to the front end, and generates an electronic version of the journal, complete with indexing, downloadable PDFs, etc. 

For the journal I'm working on, nineteen sixty nine, I decided to go with the University of California's eScholarship platform as our back end, which is actually a modified implementation of OJS specific to the University of California's journals. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDTi9bOUO60

I decided to go with eScholarship for our journal because they host everything and provide tech support for free (since the journal is being produced by UC Berkeley's Ethnic Studies department), and because being affiliated with the University of California and California Digital Library raises the profile and academic credentials of the journal. 

The Website and E-Journal aka the front end layer

The front end is actually the easiest part of the e-journal equation. nineteen sixty nine uses WordPress to host the website. 

As for how the journal will eventually be presented in digital form, we could have gone the route of simply providing a PDF of the journal for download on our site, or linking to the eScholarship-generated version of the journal like many professional academic journals do, but there are a few problems with these approaches.

First of all, simply presenting the journal via a link to a downloadable PDF really takes away from the reading experience. Doing that is no better than me forwarding an attachment of the journal to a friend, where the PDF would then be opened in Acrobat Reader, which would likely appear too zoomed in or too zoomed out, and remind you just how much PDFs really suck the romance out of reading as you fiddle around with the hand tool. 

Displaying the journal through services like eScholarship is also quite an unpleasant experience, though I do like their platform and mandate very much. eScholarship outputs each article as a separate webpage, meaning it looks something like how journal articles look on JSTOR. The pages are static and load slowly, and it is difficult to jump from page to page. There is also a lack of polish in the presentation. 

It's great that you can read the article right from your browser without having to download a PDF and open it in Acrobat, but it's sluggish and difficult to read. 

Enter the brilliant e-publishing service, Issuu.

Issuu is a service that turns PDFs into full-fledged online publications. As you can see above, Issuu renders pages beautifully in full-screen, allowing for a pleasant and dynamic reading experience without the hassle of fiddling around with settings.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how our inaugural issue will end up!

Tweetology 101: Designing a Twitter-enabled Course

I want to first make it clear that I'm not a die-hard Twitter fanatic, nor did I have much experience in using it until very recently. I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon very late.

I signed up for my Twitter account in March 2009 and tweeted, "I'm new to Twitter and am highly confused." As that first feeble tweet hinted at, I had joined Twitter to see what all the fuss was about and I was not impressed. I mostly thought I didn't need it because nobody I knew used it. 

Two and a half years later -- an eternity in Twitter time -- I had the sudden urge to give Twitter a second chance. What drove me back to Twitter wasn't teaching, but learning. I wanted to do a better job of keeping up with current trends in the scholarly world, particularly with new books on race. I had a hunch that many academic publishers would have a presence on Twitter, and it turned out I was right -- well over thirty five academic publishers are active on Twitter, including some of my favorites such as UC Press, Duke, and Minnesota. 

Then I began to think about my students. I've been teaching non-stop since I entered grad school -- as a teaching assistant (or "GSI" in Berkeley-speak) from 2007 to the present, and as a lecturer earlier this year. Though I've taught the same course for four years, I've always tried new things in the classroom. In my early years, I was quick to adopt online forum postings and Skype for teaching, and later experimented with more traditional assignments such as in-class group presentations and weekly quizzes. 

I figure with all the years of tinkering under my belt by the time I complete my degree and go on the market I'll have become a better teacher, one who's able to create a dynamic and fun learning environment with minimal effort.   

With this in mind, I thought if Twitter could help me learn better, could it also not help me teach better? 

I began to research if others before me had thought the same way.

Researching Twitter for Teaching

I found a series of articles and websites devoted to Twitter and teaching spanning mostly from 2008-2009, when a few professors across the country were experimenting with Twitter in the classroom. I haven't found much buzz about it since those years. 

My biggest inspiration was from the work of Prof. Monica Rankin, who teaches history at the University of Texas at Dallas. Rankin's experiment with Twitter was widely reported in the popular media at the time, and the fact that she was a historian like myself made me particularly interested in her usage of and experience with Twitter. A YouTube video of her experiment can be seen here.

Rankin's rationale for her usage of Twitter was simple. She identified a key problem of the traditional lecture format: too many students + one expert yammering at the front of the room + no real interaction = ineffective pedagogy. I, too, share this sentiment with Rankin, and am loathe to carry on this draconian tradition. 

But I wasn't totally sold on Twitter being the solution to such a problem. 

As the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in 2009, Twitter is no magic bullet for the tired lecture format. Rankin herself is quoted expressing this sentiment:

"There is certainly the potential for disaster," she agreed when I reached her on her cellphone last week. During one class session about abortion, for instance, students began an argument on Twitter that Ms. Rankin characterized only as "nonproductive and nonacademic." She said her teaching assistant quickly brought the flame war to her attention, and "we basically kind of changed topics at that point."

The article also includes a very insightful student's perspective, from a different Twitter experiment:

I asked Mr. Van Wye, the student, whether some students end up derailing class sessions thanks to Hotseat [Purdue's customized Twitter application]. "Yeah, perhaps, because sometimes you have people writing funny comments, and we have to stop and kind of acknowledge that it happened," he said. "And sometimes that takes away from it a little bit."

On balance, though, he would vote to keep the software: "It does more good than it does hurt."

The article also notes one attempt to cheat using Twitter, where a student tweeted a request to his fellow classmates for an answer to an exam question while the exam was taking place. However, the attempt was easily tracked and really, you can't get much of an answer in 140 character messages unless its for multiple choice, which I would never do in a history class. 

Last, I consulted Dr. Barbara Nixon's use of Twitter-based assignments, something that Rankin and many others did not seem to be interested in implementing. While I disagree with a lot of Nixon's design decisions (see below), I do think getting students excited about using Twitter as a "discussion enhancer" is important, and the teacher should take an active role in guiding the students into using Twitter for maximum educational benefit.

Furthermore, I found the idea of Twitter-based assignments intriguing because the majority of students still mostly do not participate in discussions in smaller venues. Typically, about 2-5 students end up being the main contributors, while the rest coast along, perhaps because they're shy, or perhaps because they don't know how to get a foothold in the discussion. 

Some of you might say that if the students aren't participating, that's the teacher's fault, and so the teacher should just do a better job and not rely on a gimmick like Twitter to do his job for him. This criticism could be valid for inexperienced or just plain bad teachers, but most educators know that even the best of us often fail to teach to our own high standards not because we are lacking in some way, but because there are things the teacher cannot control -- such as the dynamics between students, students' personalities, even the day and time of the class -- that make the instructor a less effective teacher. 

I am writing with this latter group of teachers in mind. No amount of pedagogical skill will turn around that dead silent 8am class filled with clique-y students that would sooner spit in each other's faces than collectively discuss Manifest Destiny.

Thus, I view my tinkering around with different teaching tools less as the actions of a daredevil wanting to redefine what it means to teach and learn in the 21st century university, and more as the actions of a decent teacher wanting the best out of himself and his students.

My mantra for this particular experiment with Twitter is this: Twitter enhances, not replaces. It enhances but does not replace a good discussion; it enhances but does not replace a good teacher.  

Guiding Princples for Twitter-enhanced Teaching

This finally brings me to my envisioning of Twitter as a "discussion enhancer." You can access my implementation of Twitter for classroom use here to see how the principles I outline below guided my course design. 

1) Twitter is fundamentally about broadcasting short messages to anybody willing to listen. It is a form of micro-sharing. This has certain pedagogical benefits, including forcing students to condense complex subject matter into simpler, more manageable parts. This is a fundamental skill for life just as much as it is a critical learning skill, and it should be nurtured and encouraged. In some of my early years of teaching, I had students post bi-weekly 250-word responses to a message board, but found even these short pieces to be far too onerous for myself and my students to read. Rather than sharing, this ended up being more akin to dumping. 

2) Twitter is mostly wide open to the public, and caution needs to be exercised, and this is where I strongly disagree with Nixon's pedagogical design. In her implementation of Twitter, Nixon has every student follow the instructor as well as every student in the class. Though well intentioned, this is a bad idea because it forces students to follow people they may not want to, for personal or other reasons. I strongly feel students have the right to decide who they talk to and befriend in class, and should have a semblance of that right online. Thus, in my implementation, only the instructor and student are required to follow each other because only the instructor can guarantee her own behavior. As such, connections between students should be made or broken organically, with students themselves being the arbiters of who to follow and who to avoid.  

3) The conversations on Twitter should be purposeful, though organic. Sometimes the instructor should step in to provide structure by tweeting out a question to the class, but ideally students themselves will be generating purposeful discussion in a dynamic fashion. Some funny or off-topic remarks are to be expected, but I don't see them as a barrier to discussion. Rather, it makes people follow the general discourse more intently, just as I do whenever Conan O'Brian or Steven Colbert send out their funny, but timely, tweets.  A smart-assed quip is much more useful to an educator than is total and prolonged silence. Laughter is an entry point and not a road block to learning. 

4) By following the discussion on Twitter, the instructor has a far better idea of how to facilitate the real world discussion that will take place afterwards, meaning that Twitter is a kind of warm up or opening act for the in-class discussion. In short, Twitter provides clues to what people are interested in, what kinds of questions students have, and whether students are actually doing the work or not. I strongly believe that the best educators are those that are the most prepared, and not necessarily the most charismatic nor the most knowledgeable. Twitter allows the instructor and the students to prepare for the nitty gritty of the in-class discussion, while still allowing a high degree of spontaneity and dynamism too. It gives otherwise hesistant students the foothold they need to discuss things seriously.  

5) Twitter broadens out the discussion to a level you cannot achieve through traditional discussion. The best tweets are the kinds that share information via links, images, YouTube videos, etc., where you are directed to a related source you weren't aware of.  Establishing these different connections in digital space encourages establishing similar linkages in the mind. We're reading about Orientalism and stereotypes of Asians; why not link a clip from "Sayonara" on YouTube to get the point across? Doing so creates a mental connection between the theories and concepts that are read about, and whatever is linked. Much of what we do in academia -- in science, the humanities, and social science -- is linking complex theories or analyses to everyday examples. Why shouldn't we enable our students to make those same linkages too?  

Later on, I will be blogging about the outcome of my class, and hopefully include some comments from my students as well. 

 

How I See the Future of Academic Publishing

I've been thinking a lot lately on the future of reading in general and academic publishing in particular with the mainstreaming of the e-book largely thanks to the massive success of Amazon's Kindle e-reader. As the New York Times reports below, earlier this year for the first time ever, Amazon sold more e-books than it did print editions on its website:

Since April 1, Amazon sold 105 books for its Kindle e-reader for every 100 hardcover and paperback books, including books without Kindle versions and excluding free e-books. “We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, in a statement. “We’ve been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years.” But people should not exile their bookshelves to storage quite yet, many analysts warned. Over all, e-books account for only about 14 percent of all general consumer fiction and nonfiction books sold, according to Forrester Research. - "E-Books Outsell Print Books at Amazon", New York Times (May 19, 2011)

Furthermore, in June of this year, Pew Research Center put out a study that found in May 2011, 12% of American households had an e-reader. Taking into account that smartphones, desktop computers, tablets, and laptops can all be used to read e-books, it seems reasonable to conclude that a significant minority of Americans are reading books on their electronic devices.

I think academics (especially young ones of my generation) and academic publishers should pay careful attention to the mainstreaming of the e-book. Part of my interest in this trend stems from my own thinking about publishing options for my work if I ever get to that stage, but most of my fascination with the subject comes from my embrace of cloud computing and paid digital content, two things you may not immediately associate with buying and reading books.

But this is exactly what the mainstreaming of e-books is all about: it is just as much about how the content is delivered as it is about creating an electronic device that successfully simulates the printed page without its physical limitations.  In short, broader market changes suggest that the e-book is not going away. Instead I would argue that the popularity of e-books is part of a bigger trend of people paying real money for digital content instead of physical media.

This development is nothing new.

Apple's iTunes store completely changed the way we think about buying music and other forms of entertainment, and services like Netflix (for streamed movies) and Steam/PlayStation Network/Xbox Live (for video games) have widened the scope of the market for digital goods. So those unfamiliar with or skeptical about e-books need to realize that the printed book has the potential to go the way of the LP and become the province of hardcore enthusiasts and traditionalists.

Printed books will still be there, just as LPs, DVDs, and other physical media are still with us, but the bound book will probably not be the primary way we read texts in the near future. I'm not so technophilic to believe that academia -- that dusty old institution of slower-than-glacial-pace change -- will all of a sudden embrace the idea of e-monographs, but there are concrete signs that this is where academic publishing is heading. In October 2010, when Amazon released its "Kindle Singles" e-book format, it had this to say:

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"-- Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1481538&highlight

Also in October 2010, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted a potential move towards adopting electronic textbooks in colleges for classroom use in its article The End of the Textbook as We Know It, while a mere a week ago, Amazon announced that it will rent out thousands of electronic textbooks to students for the 2011 school year.

And there are signs in the academy itself that change is afoot. There is already the precedent of e-journals and online databases like Google Scholar, Web of Science, and JSTOR becoming well entrenched in scholarly circles, while it is not uncommon to see course readings being made available online through e-books or scanned PDFs on the student side of things.

Academic e-books and e-publishing are going to become a part of the intellectual milieu in the near future, and frankly, as both a consumer and producer of academic writing myself, this change can't come soon enough.