Annotate This!

Ten years ago when the Apple iPad was introduced, Sue Halpern wrote an article in the New York Review titled, What the iPad Can’t Do. It was accompanied by this fascinating example of pen and ink annotation from David Foster Wallace.

Of course it is now more than ten years later and the quaint fascination of the original iPad has been replaced by a much more robust and powerful device that is both a flexible digital reader and also a reasonable substitute for a full-fledged computer, especially with the addition of a keyboard and what is now almost a necessity, an internet connection. In fact, the standard MacOS is migrating toward the iPad in both look and function.

But there are still things the iPad can’t do: it can’t be folded (yet), it can’t be slipped into my back pocket (that’s for the iPhone), and it’s native eBook reader is disappointing. Although Books, like most all readers, performs most valuable functions like making the font big enough for tired old eyes to read, it includes few innovations and is sadly tied to increasing profits from the Apple Bookstore.

However, it can handle annotations, but not hand-scribbled in red ink going every-which-a-way up and down the margins and circled for extra emphasis or clarity.

Interestingly, the Apple Pencil can do such things, but not in the Books application. In fact, such notes (in Pages, for instance) can be easily converted from handwriting to typing, thus removing the helter-skelter confusion demonstrated in Wallace’s notes.

Will Apple see the benefits of implementing Pencil annotations in Books? The technology is there but experience suggests that Books is not a priority application.

A Personal Observation

In my seventy-odd years I have marked up more than my share of books with pencil notes, underlining, highlighting, circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back explaining each one. First problem: I seldom if ever went back and reread those annotations; second problem, most of my annotations were designed to demonstrate to a unidentified future reader that I was at least as smart and well-read as the book’s author; and third, going back many years to my faded pencil annotations and once flashy neon highlighting, my inevitable response was incredulity that I had been that stupid and mistaken in my youth.

So make annotations as easy and fancy as you will but I contend they are not intended for our own edification, silly at best, and seldom revisited.

One thought on “Annotate This!

  1. I see it coming. As a high school teacher in a pandemic, several of my students ask for PDFs of everything and they use the Apple pencil and the zoom feature to annotate their notes, write their complete problems (math teacher). My wife works at a medical school and she says the students re doing crazy things with that ability in anatomy, being able to zoom in so far and make labels. Crazy stuff.


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