From book to booooooooooooooooooooook

On: October 13, 2010
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About Alberto Angelini
italian, male / creativitheoretical guy / videoartisan and polymusician / BA in cinema, past experiences as screenwriter & director both for tv and independent projects / addicted to bergamot tea / currently training to become a master of media / compulsive reader / vaguely vegetarian


In a recent work about the future of printed literature, italian intellectual Umberto Eco describes the book as an eternal technology, something similar to a spoon or a bycicle: while time goes by and innovations pop up ceaselessly, some specifically well-designed objects tend to remain pretty stable. Moreover, he argues, the book-shape is determined by our own anatomy and deeply interacts with our senses (i.e. the smell of the pages, the habit of moistening a finger to turn them, the portability of the container and the tactile memory it encourages); so, although the e-reader revolution can definitely reduce deforestation or schoolbags’ weight, as well as allow a better and quicker dissemination of written material, the book as we know it will always remain a unique and incomparable magic tool – and maybe, in a near [totally digitized] future, be regarded & consumed as a luxury product, like a glass of fine red wine.

Eco is probably right, since in my personal opinion what we’re experiencing and heavily debating in these days is not a mere shifting of content, but the reshaping of a whole cultural tradition. Indeed, it’s too simple (and not very far-sighted) to imagine an e-book as a simple electronic version of the traditional one. Of course, once “translated” in binary code, the gigantic mass of already available information becomes much more dinamic, easy-to-handle and interconnected (expecially for scientific or academic research), but what about books that are produced right now, or that are gonna be produced in the very next months? Should they come out in paper, digital flavour or both? These is the nodal doubt, precisely because

Music and video have been digital for a long time, and short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn’t..

(Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, in a Newsweek interview about the release of Kindle)

In fact, there isn’t such a big difference between a vinyl record, a magnetic tapes, a cd or an .mp3 in terms of music fruition (we basically connect the listening device to some speakers/headphones and enjoy the audio vibrations), and the same thing can be said about movie consumption (vhs/dvd/bluray/divx experienced on a screen): duration is fixed, physical involvment is limited and real-time comparison with other sources is discouraged. On the contrary, a book is a vessel to every kind of brain tinkering: a meditation break, a translation, an intensive parallel note-writing, a multi-volumes investigation, a simple daydream. So, if dedicated e-reading platforms are really destined to shatter the market, these para-activities have to be absolutely embedded in the new format – or at least stimulated by it. Furthermore, considering that electronical and digital written stimula have been around for a while in scattered bites (e-mail, sms, IM, chats, textual internet [in different ways, a big percentage of both web 1.0 and 2.0]), it’s now desirable to enrich the upcoming e-books with similar interactive features.

To conclude, we don’t have to worry about the future of the book, but seriously think about the (e)books of the future. Should they revitalize ill-fated hypernarrative projects, enhance a fertile multitasking by providing semi-automatic glosses on the borders (like in the libroid app), let us underline passages or modify them? Or maybe the growing e-book universe has to be built as an intertwined e-bibliography where is possible to access (paying or not?) singular fragments, chapters, quotes or illustration?

Meditation break.

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