the performing book 02.03.2005, 3:56 PM
posted by kim white
We've been talking about reading modes, but let's imagine, for a moment, that the future book will change reading itself. Perhaps it will combine the performance aspects of television, film, animation, and theatre with the interactive aspects of the world wide web to forge a book that reads you as you read it.
Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson imagines such a book in his novel, The Diamond Age. The main character is a book--an illustrated primer that functions almost like an artificial intelligence. It bonds with its reader, notices things about her life, and uses those bits of information to create instructional narratives on the fly. These stories are performed by live "ractors" (human actors working in reactive/interactive scenarios) and broadcast on the pages of a book. The physical book is leather bound, with "smart" paper pages that support electronic text and animated images. The primer looks like an old-fashioned book, but acts (or reacts) like a book of the future. In Stephenson's imagination, it's this element of interactivity and performance that distinguishes the future book from its predecessor.
But lest you worry that I'm basing my research on the imaginings of my favorite science fiction writer, I can assure you that the performing book is already here in its nascent incarnations. In the image of Stephenson's primer, a company called Touchsmart is developing a book with "smart" paper that functions like a touch screen, allowing readers to find answers to their questions instantly, through a wireless connection to the internet and to other electronic devices that broadcast content.
Publisher, Peak Interactive Books, whose stated mission is to, look beyond the print book, beyond television, beyond the web page, to the interactive book of the future, is publishing interactive multimedia textbooks including: Cryosurgery for Prostate Cancer, and Using Interactive Media to Communicate.
The interactive CD Roms published by Voyager are an excellent touchstone in the history of performing books. TK3 software, which has been used to make everything from textbooks, to performing paintings, also draws on the performing book model. The institute is presently developing "Sophie," ebook authoring software that will allow most currently available media to be incorporated into an electronic book.
As for the book reading you. Ben's recent post "finally, I have a Memex!" describes how the semantic web will add a new dimension to the growing power of search engines. Their ability to collect personal information has already been incorporated into the recreational and academic reading experience. What we are waiting for is the book that builds its content out of the bits it gathers from our lives.
Posted by kim white on February 3, 2005 3:56 PM
tags: The Performing Book
gary frost on February 6, 2005 10:01 AM:
(performing book blog)
This blog now has 62 illustrated postings with about a 100 comments. Of the comments over half follow from only five postings while 41 postings produced no comments. I am wondering about reading efficiency.
Does the blog need to archive off screen? Would the future of the book topic also be well served by a listserve where threads can conduct the converstation in an efficient, fast email exchange? The SHARP listserve and many others are good models.
kim white on February 7, 2005 10:07 PM:
Thanks for your thoughts on this. This blog was launched about a month ago and is still in its formative stages, so suggestions for improvement are appreciated.
Originally, we had two blogs, one for news and events related to the future of the book (however tenuously) and another for deeper ruminations. But then our ruminations kept getting mixed up with our newsy bits and vice-versa, making it hard to determine which blog to post on. We felt the readers would be better served if both types of posts appeared together and there was only one blog to visit. Our "Threads" section is an attempt to feature the longer threads. We will work on ways to make this more efficient.
One of our primary goals is to make the blog a public space for discussion, so going private with a listserv (though more efficient) wouldn't serve that purpose.