The future of books…


I like books, love, I am probably even addicted to them. So many interesting ideas out there. Running out of space I have come back, strangely, to the idea of using the library. I can order most of the books I am interested in from across the county and they generally turn up.

Music went form LPs, cassettes, to CDs, and now disembodied mp3s. Audio is now so available, and can be stored so densely, or even just browsed from the web with Spotify. Could books be too? What is a book, what is its very essence that it is paramount to preserve?

For quite a while I have been thinking about what books could be, and indeed what they were. Paper pages bound together? A beguiling metaphor but no, they are more than that. At the core of it all a book is a record of information. Starting with pictures on rocks, cuneiform on clay tablets, to scrolls, then printed books, and now on various eBook devices. No doubt there were other devices too that have perished, the British government used tally sticks to keep numerical records, they perished as did the original Houses of Parliament, when deemed superfluous. The Incans used knots as note of record, and then there is carved masonry too, as well as the Roman wax tablets.

Personal data though has swept ideas, and inventions over millennia. Books arose in the dark ages, illustrated by monks. Page numbers, chapters, and indexes were all trialled and added as people found they gave more power to use the data. Even beyond the book the system of book shelves had to be invented, tweaked and explored.

My point is that using the book metaphors or animated turning pages, or books on a virtual shelf show a huge lack of confidence and just point out how new the medium is. We don’t call cars horseless carriges anymore do we, you no longer have to have someone walk in front of you holding a red flag. Where would Top Gear be if we were limited to 4 miles an hour?

But current metaphors are better than nothing, people still navigate the way they used to. I can imagine people moaned about books replacing scrolls. Paradoxically an eBook is going to be much more like an eScroll. Edging down bit by bit through the text. Chris Mod blogged about how Formless Content (your standard novel text trailing over pages) is trivially transferrable, they are just lines of words to an eBook. Whereas Definite Content (words artistically positioned along with diagrams) being more tightly honed to the page is a different proposition. However one could say that Definite Content could make the full use of modern media, a veritable multi-media production, which to date hasn’t set the world afire, being so tightly to the medium of the device, and how its distributed. I am put in mind of Neil Stephenson’s book, The Diamond Age, wherein a young lady comes across a wonderous book to educate and illuminate her life, the “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer; a Propædeutic Enchiridion in which is told the tale of Princess Nell and her various friends, kin, associates, &c.” (apologies for the faux Neo-Victoriania). As well as the modern day Domesday Project run initiated by the BBC.

I trust what we’ll end up with will be far more impressive, something you can hang a Singularity on.

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~ by zeristor on March 7, 2010.

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