Considering the Future of the Book

First, I should make it clear that I like books. After all, I write them. But that does not mean that books are the best possible way to present information. Just because it seems like books have always been here does not mean they always will be. To many people, just the idea that the book may soon disappear is so frightening that it's difficult to discuss the subject rationally.

Perhaps one way of putting this in perspective is to consider a question from last year's qualifying examination at our institute. (Yes, I do give exams; well, anyway, I do give this one each year, I can't recall any other.)

Technology tends to influence art in serious ways. And art influences story telling. If you wanted to tell a story in some way other than simply by talking, then painting a picture, or carving a stele there were limited options available 2000 years ago. After the invention of the printing press, a new art form developed, although it took a few years, namely, the novel. This was an art form for story telling influenced by the new technology of the book. Similarly, movies became a new way of telling stories when film technology was created. Your job is to outline the story telling art form of the future. Make your idea realistic enough that, if your suggestion is good, I could ask you to build it and expect to see it sometime before you graduate. Bear in mind while doing this that there is a difference between an art form and an artist. Great painters may not have been great story tellers, and great story tellers may certainly not have been able to paint. The program you propose would be usable by an artist/story teller who, while facile at the technology, would primarily be a potentially great story teller who has now found his medium.

The emphasis in this question is on how new technology can serve a specific function. As such, it frames how to think about our vision of the future. The question about books is not, "will there be books?' but "can the purposes served by books be better served by other means?"

To answer this question we need to make a distinction between at least three kinds of books: reference books, treatises arguing a point of view, and novels. The question we want to ask is: can computer technology improve on these three ways of conveying information? The way to answer this is to understand the point of each of these three types of books.

Next Story The Future of the Reference Book

Outline Where am I in the content of the book?

Give Me An Example

Give Me Details

Give Me Background

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