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The 'Future Book' Is Here, but It's Not What We Expected | WIRED
"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 And then, more broadly: “The print medium is a doomed and outdated technology, a mere curiosity of bygone days destined soon to be consigned forever to those dusty unattended museums we now call libraries.”

Normal books? Bo-ring. Future Books? Awesome—indeterminate—and we were almost there! The Voyager Company built its "expanded books" platform on Hypercard, launching with three titles at MacWorld 1992. Microsoft launched Encarta on CD-ROM.

But … by the mid-2000s, there still were no real digital books. The Rocket eBook was too little, too early. Sony launched the eink-based Librie platform in 2004 to little uptake. Interactive CD-ROMs had dropped off the map. We had Wikipedia, blogs, and the internet, but the mythological Future Book—some electric slab that would somehow both be like and not like the quartos of yore—had yet to materialize. Peter Meirs, head of technology at Time, hedged his bets perfectly, proclaiming: “Ultimately, there will be some sort of device!”

And then there was. Several devices, actually. The iPhone launched in June 2007, the Kindle that November. Then, in 2010, the iPad arrived. High-resolution screens were suddenly in everyone’s hands and bags. And for a brief moment during the early 2010s, it seemed like it might finally be here: the glorious Future Book."



"Yet here’s the surprise: We were looking for the Future Book in the wrong place. It’s not the form, necessarily, that needed to evolve—I think we can agree that, in an age of infinite distraction, one of the strongest assets of a “book” as a book is its singular, sustained, distraction-free, blissfully immutable voice. Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. Perhaps the form and interactivity of what we consider a “standard book” will change in the future, as screens become as cheap and durable as paper. But the books made today, held in our hands, digital or print, are Future Books, unfuturistic and inert may they seem."

[sections on self-publishing, crowdfunding, email newsletters, social media, audiobooks and podcasts, etc.]



"It turns out smartphones aren’t the best digital book reading devices (too many seductions, real-time travesties, notifications just behind the words), but they make excellent audiobook players, stowed away in pockets while commuting. Top-tier podcasts like Serial, S-Town, and Homecoming have normalized listening to audio or (nonfiction) booklike productions on smartphones."



"Last August, a box arrived on my doorstep that seemed to embody the apotheosis of contemporary publishing. The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition was published via a crowdfunding campaign. The edition includes a book of images, three records, and a small poster packaged in an exquisite box set with supplementary online material. When I held it, I didn’t think about how futuristic it felt, nor did I lament the lack of digital paper or interactivity. I thought: What a strange miracle to be able to publish an object like this today. Something independently produced, complex and beautiful, with foil stamping and thick pages, full-color, in multiple volumes, made into a box set, with an accompanying record and other shimmering artifacts, for a weirdly niche audience, funded by geeks like me who are turned on by the romance of space.

We have arrived to the once imagined Future Book in piecemeal truths.

Moving images were often espoused to be a core part of our Future Book. While rarely found inside of an iBooks or Kindle book, they are here. If you want to learn the ukulele, you don’t search Amazon for a Kindle how-to book, you go to YouTube and binge on hours of lessons, stopping when you need to, rewinding as necessary, learning at your own pace.

Vannevar Bush's “Memex” essentially described Wikipedia built into a desk.

The "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an iPhone.

In The Book of Sand, Borges wrote of an infinite book: "It was then that the stranger told me: 'Study the page well. You will never see it again.'" Describing in many ways what it feels like to browse the internet or peek at Twitter.

Our Future Book is composed of email, tweets, YouTube videos, mailing lists, crowdfunding campaigns, PDF to .mobi converters, Amazon warehouses, and a surge of hyper-affordable offset printers in places like Hong Kong.

For a “book” is just the endpoint of a latticework of complex infrastructure, made increasingly accessible. Even if the endpoint stays stubbornly the same—either as an unchanging Kindle edition or simple paperback—the universe that produces, breathes life into, and supports books is changing in positive, inclusive ways, year by year. The Future Book is here and continues to evolve. You’re holding it. It’s exciting. It’s boring. It’s more important than it has ever been.

But temper some of those flight-of-fancy expectations. In many ways, it’s still a potato."
craigmod  ebooks  reading  howweread  2018  kindle  eink  print  publishing  selfpublishing  blurb  lulu  amazon  ibooks  apple  digital  bookfuturism  hypertext  hypercard  history  vannevarbush  borges  twitter  animation  video  newsletters  email  pdf  mobi  epub  infrastructure  systems  economics  goldenrecord  voyager  audio  audiobooks  smarthphones  connectivity  ereaders  podcasts  socialmedia  kevinkelly  benthompson  robinsloan  mailchimp  timbuktulabs  elenafavilli  francescacavallo  jackcheng  funding  kickstarter  crowdfunding  blogs  blogging  wikipedia  internet  web  online  writing  howwewrite  self-publishing  youtube 
january 2019 by robertogreco

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