Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
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Providence, RI 02912
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Czech teacher, scientist and writer John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), often viewed as the father of modern education, aptly summarized "the mode in which objects must be presented to the senses, if the impression is to be distinct":
"If the object is to be clearly seen it is neccessary: (1) that it be placed before the eyes; (2) not far off, but at a reasonable distance; (3) not on one side, but straight before the eyes; and (4) so that the front of the objects be not turned away from, but directed towards the observer; (5) that the eyes first take in an object as a whole; (6) and then proceed to distinguish the parts; (7) inspecting these in order from beginning to the end; (8) that attention be paid to each and every part; (9) until they are all grasped by means of their essential attributes. If these requisites be properly observed, vision takes place successfully; but if one be neglected its success is only partial." (qtd. in Latour, 9)
Although Comenius' approach guarantees a careful reading of a text, it is not condusive to a satisfying reading of the Providence Phoenix. The mosaic format of the typical news weekly calls for the initial absorption of the paper as a whole, Comenius' fifth step. However, the typical reader does not proceed by taking in each individual piece of the mosaic in turn. Rather, he or she will pick out the pieces of the whole that spark his or her interest, and skip over the rest. In this manner the reader of the Phoenix becomes more active than passive, more reliant on his or her own motives and interests than the motives and interests of publishers and editors.
The Phoenix reader's active approach to reading is characteristic of McLuhan's "cool" journalism:
A glance to the future: With the continuing effects of the Internet Age, the collapse of the mosaic allows for an even more active reading of the Phoenix. Reliance on the internet as a source of Phoenix news also alters where and how the reader absorbs the Phoenix. For example, reading the Phoenix online either requires isolation within one's own home or isolation behind a laptop screen. While a newspaper can be laid flat on a surface and in doing so leave the face unobstructed, the top half of an open laptop makes facial obstruction unavoidable.
A thought: What happens when the Phoenix is not consumed in the traditional sense, a.k.a. through the reading of articles and viewing of images? What if the paper isn't read at all by he who "consumes" it? Consider ''Phoenix'' as _____.
Where we are when we read the "Phoenix" influences how we absorb it. The ordering of the senses is influenced by the reader's surroundings and space. Even if sight takes precedence over hearing, a reader cannot always account for the ambient noise in a given setting, or the glare of the sun through a window, or close quarters that might force the reader to fold his paper in half and only focus on a tiny section of it. The combinations of factors associated with any space are infinite, and make for an infinite number of readings of the given text.
When I visited the Providence Phoenix offices in Downtown Providence, Phoenix publisher Stephen Brown emphasized the importance of strategically placing Phoenix newsstands throughout the distribution radius--the given space. He compared his strategy to placing candy at child's-eye level. When the Phoenix is right at hand, the reader no excuse not to pick it up. Brown highlights restaurants, clubs, liquor stores, coffee shops, convenience stores and college campuses as the ideal spots in which to place newsstands. In order to establish a routine with readers, the Phoenix makes sure that the paper is placed in the same spots, at the same time, looking relatively the same, every week (see distribution radius).
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