Sunday, January 6, 2019
This article from Wired notes that despite the seeming certainty of predictions that digital technology would have by now revolutionized books by incorporating all kinds of gee-whiz interactive features, so far it hasn't happened. Digital books haven't changed much at all since their introduction more than 15 years ago. And they still haven't supplanted the demand for traditional books which remains strong for the same reason that the design hasn't changed since Gutenberg's invention; the book blends form and function so perfectly that it nearly defies improvement. According to Wired, however, what has changed is the publishing industry itself and the ease with which an author can get her work into print. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The future book was meant to be interactive, moving, alive. Its pages were supposed to be lush with whirling doodads, responsive, hands-on. The old paperback Zork choose-your-own-adventures were just the start. The Future Book would change depending on where you were, how you were feeling. It would incorporate your very environment into its story—the name of the coffee shop you were sitting at, your best friend’s birthday. It would be sly, maybe a little creepy. Definitely programmable. Ulysses would extend indefinitely in any direction you wanted to explore; just tap and some unique, mega-mind-blowing sui generis path of Joycean machine-learned words would wend itself out before your very eyes.
Prognostications about how technology would affect the form of paper books have been with us for centuries. Each new medium was poised to deform or murder the book: newspapers, photography, radio, movies, television, videogames, the internet.
Some viewed the intersection of books and technology more positively: In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote in The Atlantic: “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.”
Researcher Alan Kay created a cardboard prototype of a tablet-like device in 1968. He called it the "Dynabook," saying, “We created a new kind of medium for boosting human thought, for amplifying human intellectual endeavor. We thought it could be as significant as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press 500 years ago.”
In the 1990s, Future Bookism hit a kind of beautiful fever pitch. We were so close. Brown University professor Robert Coover, in a 1992 New York Times op-ed titled “The End of Books,” wrote of the future of writing: “Fluidity, contingency, indeterminacy, plurality, discontinuity are the hypertext buzzwords of the day, and they seem to be fast becoming principles, in the same way that relativity not so long ago displaced the falling apple.” And then, more broadly: “The print medium is a doomed and outdated technology, a mere curiosity of bygone days destined soon to be consigned forever to those dusty unattended museums we now call libraries.”
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[M]y Kindle Oasis—one of the most svelte, elegant, and expensive digital book containers you can buy in 2018—is about as interactive as a potato . . . .
Physical books today look like physical books of last century. And digital books of today look, feel, and function almost identically to digital books of 10 years ago, when the Kindle launched. The biggest change is that many of Amazon’s competitors have gone belly up or shrunken to irrelevancy. The digital reading and digital book startup ecosystem that briefly emerged in the early 2010s has shriveled to a nubbin.
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Continue reading here.