Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Author Robin Sloane Releases App Fish: a Tap Essay for the iPhone

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An app as an essay, that is what is behind Robin Sloane’s, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hours Bookstore, app, Fish: a Tap Essay. It doesn’t do anything like allow you to play games or find friends. It is simply an essay with some thoughts on the Internet, and the way that we treat and view online content.

To give you an idea of what Sloane is getting at in his essay, think about a favorite book or movie of yours that you have read or watched countless times. Perhaps you’ve loved this book or movie since childhood, or discovered it in college. Perhaps you’ve even recommended it to friends, loaned it out, quoted from it. But this book or movie is one that you return to frequently because you don’t just like it, you love it.

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Sloane contends that we have moved away from this with online content because there is simply so much of it. Written content, visual media, streaming video, you name it – we are barraged with it all day, every day. So we hit “like,” and maybe even share it with our friends, and then probably never think about it again. Not the way we do with that book or movie we have read or watched 53 times.

Sloane’s tap essay lets you read it one sentence at a time, with the user tapping the screen when they’re ready for the next sentence. It is a clean and simple format, intended to be free from distractions like streaming video, links or other story recommendations. In that form it makes his short essay easy to read and focus upon.

Sloan likens our lack of loving Internet content to an exercise taught by historian Louis Agassiz to Harvard students in the 1800s. When Agassiz had a new class, he would put a dead fish on a metal tray and leave the students to simply look at the fish. When he came back, he would ask, “What have you seen?”. After students reported what they had seen, he would tell them to look some more. Then he’d ask them again what they say. He would repeat this routine for three days. The students would continue to explain what they had seen while staring at this dead fish. When the students would ask what was next, Agassiz would simply tell them, “Look at your fish.” The point of this is that we don’t study what we see or read online, we simply observe quickly and then move on to the next big thing.


Sloane contends that there is no album to bookmark things we love on the Internet (apparently no one has pointed him towards Pinterest or his “bookmark” button, yet). And while he does a good job explaining his line of thinking, he does not quite sum it up with what he proposes one do to love what they read or watch on the Internet, vs. just “Liking it.” He merely sums it up by saying we need to look at our fish. What he does do is present an interesting format for essays. An app does offer a simple way to read content, away from the distracting sensory input of the Internet, and perhaps it is in that way that he is aiming to make his point. Check out the app for yourself and let us know what you think!

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