You can see it coming: “pages,” as a form of citation, are dead. And you can see why. With an electronic text, the reader can change the font size almost without limit. That makes pagination useless, and probably obsolete.
In English “page” has multiple related meanings. The word can mean a young male servant as well as the page of a book, and they both appear to originate in the latin word for servant, perhaps because your servant wrote things down on a page of paper or or perhaps because written pages were both servants and our masters. The medieval page was an apprentice, on the first rung to mastery and knighthood. A grad student is an apprentice among pages who must master the book.
“Page” retains its connotations of mastery and even, in the form of Congressional pages, gains a slight aftertaste of scandal: it’s not an accident that the “pageboy” haircut conveys an element of sexual ambiguity.
You can have someone “paged,” meaning I assume originally “found by a page” but also meaning summoned, as in “paging Dr. Howard,” like a page. There used to be “pagers” used in place of cell phones, again to summon the wearer but also to take the place of the summoner. Thus page as a verb, “paging ” through a book or a list. Having someone paged turns them into a unit of a collective in the way “pagination” turns a mass of text into single discrete units.
I liked pages–I’m an inveterate dog-earer of pages. I used them in class all the time: “as Foner says on page 267…” The page was a physical reflection of the way a book built its effects, like stones in a wall: individually insignificant, collectively they built something. They imposed a sequential narrative form, so they forced their own logic on the reader. You could refer back, or jump ahead, but the “next, next, next” logic of the page structure worked its way into your brain. Once you grasped it, you could jump ahead, or you could surrender to the footstep rhythm of the page, or you could use the pages to call attention to the structure of the whole.
I have a Kindle, and love it. It freed me from the little voice that whispered “where are you going to put that” every time I bought a book. But it’s really lousy for citation. “Go to location 2465” is a poor substitute. You have to engage the “go to” feature and then type in 2465 and then submit and then scan til you find it. It’s awkward.
Of course, so was scanning through pages, till I mastered the skill. If reading, and pages, were natural we wouldn’t have to teach it. And as suggested above the word “page” is inextricably linked to hierarchy and mastery. The medieval page system looked great to those who made it to “knight.” Senators love congressional pages, who they ideally see as apprentices being mentored. People who master the page system generally love the page system.
So what direction should we take, with scholarly material in digital form? Replicate the book, or adopt a new paradigm? I think it has to be “adopt a new paradigm,” because the “page” was not simply a piece of paper with writing on it: it was and is embedded in a larger system of meaning and authority. If we abandon physical pages we have to adopt a new way of thinking about and communicating meaning.
The Kindle kind of reproduces the page, and there is something satisfying about the click click click of “next page” to advance through the book. “Previous page” is where you run into trouble. It’s not a good tool for referring back. The Ipad reader doubles down on the page format, it’s prettier, but no less irritating if you have to cite something.
The future will have to involve not citing pages, but simply pointing to the text. Instead of directing scholars to a specific page, the text itself will enable searching to find a specific word or phrase. Probably readers will have voice recognition, so you can speak a phrase and go right to it. But I think beyond that it must mean some re-ordering of the hierarchical relationship of pages to readers.