What Books Will Become (Part 1 of 2)

by on May.08, 2011, under Articles, Books, Computers, Design & Development, Gaming, Information Technology, Internet, Roleplaying Games, Science, Technology, Video Games, Videos, Visual Media, Writing

Readers might remember I wrote an article awhile back about the evolution of how stories are told. It discussed the current transition we find our media undergoing, between analogue and digital. I stopped short, in that article, of discussing where it could possibly lead and left that theorizing to the reader.

Recently I came across this article, which takes an even more in-depth look at the possibilities of where books could go.

What Books Will Become by Kevin Kelly [KK.org/TheTechnium]

That is a long article and I’m sure enthusiasts, such as myself, likely read it all. For those of you not interested in reading the entire thing, here are some interesting points I’d like to point out and discuss.

In the past a book was defined as anything printed between two covers. A list of telephone numbers was called a book, even though it had no logical beginning, middle, or end. A pile of blank pages bound with a spine was called a sketchbook. It was unabashedly empty, but it did have two covers, and was thus called a book.

This highlights one of the biggest problems with the transition of stories these days. It is the reason why I named my article the evolution of stories rather than the evolution of books. A book is a physical object, a set of paper bound together with a cover however the idea of a book has become the story. When you say a book, generally you mean a novel. Then we have our text books. Our art books. Our Instruction Manuals (which are books but we don’t call them that). Lately we have our ebooks, which aren’t books. They’re stories.

Experts had long held that no one would want to read a book on a tiny few-inch wide glowing screen, but they were wrong. By miles. Many people happily read books on their smart phone screens. In fact we don’t know yet how small a book-reading screen can go. There is an experimental type of reading called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation that uses a screen only one word wide. Your eye remains stationary, fixed on one word, which replaces itself with the next word in the text, and then the one after that. So your eye reads a sequence of words “behind” one another rather than in a long line next to one another. The screen does not need to be very large.

Disproving that people would not want to read a book on tiny screens doesn’t surprise me. Movies, visual media, have a fidelity that relates size to the information transferred. Text, on the other hand, does not have such a restriction. As long as you are able to read the characters, the information transfer remains constant. I am surprised by the idea of the Rapid Serial Visual Presentation devices although perhaps I should not be.  I’d like to give one of these devices a try.

But there is no reason an ebook has to be a tablet. Eventually e-ink paper will be manufactured in inexpensive flexible sheets. A hundred or so sheets can be bound into a sheaf, given a spine and wrapped with two handsome covers. Now the ebook looks very much like a book of old. One can physically turn its pages, navigate the book in 3D, and go back to an earlier place in the book by guessing where the spot was in the stack. To change the book, just tap its spine. Now the same pages show a different tome. Since using a 3D book is so sensual, it might be worth purchasing a very fine one with the most satin, thinnest sheets.

This is a prediction. I’m not so sure it will come true. I suspect e-ink technology will become advanced enough to simulate paper but the re-creation of a bound format seems doubtful to me. Kelly goes on to discuss the idea of newspaper sized e-ink machines and hand-held projection devices which could project a screen onto any available surface as needed. I see these as being far more viable options. I actually suspect the idea of a bound book of e-ink pages really is a dream to entice bibliophiles. I have serious reservations that physical books will ever die out so I don’t think we need to worry too much about bibliophiles. Their collections will just become even more valuable and hard to collect, much like stamps.

In the next part we will discuss more about what books become, once they’ve been liberated from static book bindings and into a more malleable digital format.

Anyway if you’ve liked some of this discussion, read the original article. There are more neat ideas about where books are headed in here.


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