Michael Shatzkin has published a four-part blog in lieu of speaking at the London Book Fair last month. Of particular interest is Part II, where he goes into what our computer/book lives might be like in 2030. (Spoiler: they'll be pretty much the same.) Here's a taste:
"We’ll access [book] files through a multiplicity of devices, which by then will really just be screens of varying descriptions with online access. There will be big ones that hang on our walls for us to watch movies on and to put a Picasso in when we’re not watching a movie. There will be small ones, foldable ones, and ones that come in rolls where you can use whatever roll width suits your immediate purpose. With your password, you’ll be able to use my screen for your data, just as you can use my computer to get at your gmail account today. There will be screens you can write and underline on which will store your markings (to share or not, as you choose.)"
I thought about doing a poll on this issue: "In 20 years, which device do you expect you'll be reading on?" Then it hit me:
Who gives a shit?
Too often, the conversation in the digital age centers around whether we will read on an iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook, or some other gewgaw they haven't invented yet. But what about what we'll be reading, and how well we'll be reading? Is anyone reading Shakespeare on these devices?
Whenever I hear "iPad," "iPhone," "Kindle," "Nook," I think: fetish item. The commotion caused by these new devices is at best a publishing industry issue or, at worst, a techie issue, interesting for what it is, but in the end the ruckus only matters if the content transmitted by the device is worth our time.
Now, if any of these devices actually change the way we experience the work to the point that they help yield a greater understanding of it, then things get interesting. For example, we all know reading Shakespeare and going to see a Shakespeare play are two different experiences, engaging different parts of the brain. I'd bet most reader-types like both experiences. But what if we could read a passage from the play, then watch the passage in action, all on a device that makes such back-and-forth easy and intuitive and not too distracting? Would that be valuable? I think so.
If all that comes to fruition, I'd buy that device.
Until then, these things are bright, shiny distractions, giving us the same thing we already have with the paper version of the book, which was never really flawed in the first place.
Yours in laying down the law,
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