Thursday, October 6, 2011

Books and Humans

Google has just launched its new e-book website in Britain and just as I clicked on the website a survey popped up asking me for my views on The Future of the Book. I was happy to answer, since I don't think e-books or digitisation will make much difference to the future of the book--at least, not in my lifetime. What is currently being produced is seldom inspirational. Digitisation is treated by its producers as a fancy form of reproduction; computer screens simply become intangible photocopiers (albeit in colour). I'd like to see something truly innovative, and thus I wonder what Steve Jobs left as his Apple Legacy (four years' worth of new Apple innovation, apparently) that might impact upon the ways in which we read online. The IPad has been revolutionary, certainly in comparison with Nook or Kindle, which are dull and replicative.
I had a conference call with the Stanford design team of Parker on the Web yesterday, and critiqued their new interoperability project, particularly the interface, which seems similar to quite a bit that is already available electronically for manuscript scholars, though there are some fancy add-ons for transcription and annotating. I believe we're stuck on the 'page' as a foundational design element. Therein lies the flaw. It's all been done before, but for the digital domain we need something new. Yet, as all text technologists know, new technologies emerge from old ones, adapting current forms to create a gradual transition. It's all about making haste slowly, then, as Suetonius himself rightly advised.

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