The Future of the Book
As someone who made the leap from print to electronic publishing over thirty years ago people often ask me to expound on the “future of the book.” Frankly, I can’t stand the question, especially when asked simplistically. For starters it needs more specificity. Are we talking 2 years, 10 years or 100 years? And what does the questioner mean by “book” anyway? Are they asking about the evolution of the physical object or its role in the social fabric?
It’s a long story but over the past thirty years my definition of “book” has undergone a major shift. At the beginning I simply defined a book in terms of its physical nature — paper pages infused with ink, bound into what we know as the codex. But then in the late 1970s with the advent of new media technologies we began to see the possibility of extending the notion of the page to include audio and video, imagining books with audio and video components. To make this work conceptually, we started defining books not in terms of their physical components but how they are used. From this perspective a book isn’t ink on bound paper, but rather “a user-driven medium” where the reader is in complete control of how they access the contents. With laser videodiscs and then cd-roms users/readers started “reading” motion pictures; transforming the traditionally producer-driven experience where the user simply sat in a chair with no control of pace or sequence into a fully user-driven medium.
This definition worked up through the era of the laser videodisc and the cd-rom, but completely fell apart with the rise of the internet. Without an “object” to tie it to, I started to talk about a book as the vehicle humans use to move ideas around time and space.
People often expressed opposition to my freewheeling license with definitions but I learned to push back, explaining that it may take decades, maybe even a century for stable new modes of expression and the words to describe them to emerge. For now I argued, it’s better to continuously redefine the definition of “book” until something else clearly takes its place.
Now that we can easily create, manage, and share chunks of ‘content’ — writing, images, video, commentary, and metadata — digital books and other digital containers for information start to smell a lot alike.
Perhaps a better question is ‘what is the future of…’ for the constituent activities, like the future of poetry, or fiction, or erotic photography. The containers will increasingly be soft copy.
In an era where the coffee table has a touch screen, the idea of coffee table ‘books’ will be just a rendering on the screen of these works, that can be opened and read on the table, or on the visitor’s personal tablet.
Stein goes on in this essay to discuss this new sort of book as becoming social objects, where readers can participate in public or private communities commenting on a work, such as in classrooms, the workplace, or the open web.
This is where books blend and intermix with other web-based and digital forms of information, and where our intentions in the use of the objects is shown as the only consideration that matters, not the historical meaning of something like a ‘book’.
I’ve never seen a GIF of this.
I was just reading about this during a wiki binge on Olympics incidents and did a little research on it. I never knew how deep the message was that Smith and Carlos were trying to send. Just about everything they wore and how they wore it had symbolism attached to it. (unzipped tracksuits for solidarity with blue collar workers, necklace of beads for lynching victims, etc) Calling it a “black power salute” is really reductive and it’s a shame (and predictable) that if it’s taught at all, that’s what it’s boiled down to.
Another thing I didn’t know: the Australian guy who came in second wore a patch for solidarity with them, he was protesting racist Australian immigration policies. When he passed away, Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral.
Don’t know what this is referring to? Here you go.
This is really powerful.
Wow, I had no idea about the solidarity patch.
This is still so powerful to watch.
(fyi Australian guy’s name is Peter Norman, he was banned from competing internationally for Australia after this, because our government can be a real sack of dicks sometimes)
I had no idea there was so much going on here. It’s fascinating. According to the Wiki article:
The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.” All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia’s White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals. Sociologist Harry Edwards, the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games; reportedly, the actions of Smith and Carlos on 16 October 1968 were inspired by Edwards’ arguments. Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his…It was…Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove, this being the reason behind him raising his left hand…differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd. Smith later said “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.