A bizarre obsession with “turning pages”

One of the strangest design caveats in e-books and online publishing is the need to reproduce the experience of turning a page as one would with paper. The fixation on creating the simulacrum of a paper page has held sway since the earliest days of electronic reading. E-magazine platform Zinio, for example, made the page-turning features in its reader the hallmark of its claim to reproduce the experience of reading a paper magazine.

Now, TechCrunch reports that Google will introduce “Flipper,” a page-turning feature, for Google News as a way of improving the user experience.

It all reminds me of the 50-year period following Gutenburg when, because printers had no better idea how to make a book, they simply imitated the designs of scribal manuscripts. Aldus Manutius had to come along and shake things up to kick-start the real evolution of reading and authorship, since most of the aping of scribal books led to folio-sized, un-attributed (except for mostly dead authors, who sometimes were deemed to have earned their billing) copies of a small set of acceptable books and lots of copies of The Bible and prayer books.

We may return to the scrolling page, which most of our ancestors found more pleasing than the codex-style page until the Dark Ages. We may not, choosing varying modes of access to text, and the “page-turn” may be an essential feature people can choose to turn off in favor of scrolling or something else. But the digital turning of pages isn’t an innovation, just imitation of a physical quality of printed works, without a solid design rationale, unless breeding familiarity is really the only challenge. It isn’t.