The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

IDEO’s Future of the Book


Design consultancy IDEO present three visions for the “future of the book” (none of which include print of course):

Any thoughts?

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  1. something tells me that it will be a while before we see this kind of stuff on a global level with many books. The problem I see with this is that it will narrow the reading public even more.

    Right now, Amazon’s method of book sales is very much geared to simply push the latest NYT besteseller. Other great work gets obscured. That happens even more on iTunes book store—same goes for music. When the book becomes a multi-level gimmick—unfortunately THAT becomes the sales factor for the public—at least the younger public. So all of a sudden, the only books that are selling and bringing in the dough are books with these type of features as apposed to the book plural. So the market gets even more diluted and mono-cultured into thinking and buying based on new “ticks” and “gadgets” as apposed to exploring new works solely for their writing.

    I am not saying that it’s not interesting or fun to look at and explore. It is. And the design is superb and very engaging. Obviously readers can choose to not participate “extra” aspects of the book, but this does not change the fact that yet again, technology is trumping the quality of writing and the diversity and individuality that exposure to many types of works holds.

    I also think it’s once again something that is over-thought. So many “ways” to experience a book makes it all that more a reality that we will be sitting for hours “fucking around” with technology rather than diving solidly into the writing.

    So what if I now know how many other people “liked” the book? How does that inform my personal opinions about the work. from the start of reading a book I’m taunted by the fact that such and such group of people liked it, why it was not appreciated by critics etc. How does this allow for any sort of evolution of personal opinion when we are constantly interjecting “other” peoples ideas?

    My opinion? It’s easy to make anything look awesome with catch background music and video. Lets simplify, personalize, not globalize the reading experience.

  2. I don’t want to join more fleeting conversations, I don’t want to spend any more time on monitors than I already have to, I don’t want clever excuses for making my life more complicated, no matter how jaunty and persuasive the accompanying soundtrack is. I just want to read a fucking printed book because reading a fucking printed book is one of the most comforting, meaningful things in all this sprawling life. Preserving culture is worth some carbon footprinting.

    I’m not a ludite, I’m not simply a book fetishist, and I’m certainly not anti-eco-friendly but culture, my God, should be tangibly available wherever possible. The future of the book should include electronic but to not include print, foremost, is to become arrogant with contemporary technology. This seems largely to corporatize, complicate, and obscure culture more than distribute culture.

    Another rant added to the din.

  3. Hey Ian + Jacob. Thanks for your input.

    I have mixed feelings about the video. On the one hand, I’m happy that a company like IDEO are thinking about books and innovation. But on the other, I thought it was all a bit underwhelming.

    While I appreciate that tablets are all very zeitgeisty, it’s disappointing that IDEO came to the rather obvious (and, in my opinion, mistaken) conclusion that print no longer has anything to offer, and that the linear reading experience is somehow inferior to the connected one. While there are benefits to being able to surf while reading, there is also research that suggests we focus and retain information better when we read without the distraction of hyperlinks etc. There is also the simple joy of reading (and being led) from the beginning to the end (which is so often forgotten in this kind of discussion). Perhaps the future of book (or reading at least) is neither one or the other, but both (with some things in between)?

    But even if you think print is dead, then the innovations, while slick, didn’t seem… well, very innovative to me. There was something terribly familiar about them all. My sense is that other people have already presented these ideas and are, in some cases, already working on them… I guess somehow I expected more of IDEO than nicely designed interfaces…

  4. These are not reading books. They are something else, some other activity of confused experience. Reading books is first a solitary and linear endeavor, which these disrupt. I’d rather have a quiet substrate, a place where I have a chance to understand and remember what I’m reading; not something that beckons me away from the text at every moment, no matter how much it’s called “part of the story.”

  5. It’s not a zero-sum game. And IDEO is just being provocative and predictive. They don’t need to mention print because we know it (and even if they’re pushing the line that print will die, well, it’s just a gambling prediction; it’s no reason to dislike them, seems to me).

    What I fear in the digital realm is reading without distractions. I’m more concerned with how to control my own behaviour and absorb information in the most efficacious, enjoyable and useful way without my mind wandering to all the nearby bells and whistles. Sometimes, taking it in means linear reading in the dark, quietly. At other times I want to scan reviews, see discussions, move forward and backwards through a piece of writing (and the larger structure into which it may fit). I love the idea of easter egg books and reader contributive novels and novel games and team novels and multiending novels.

    Overall I’m optimistic and open to it all. We’ll all find out levels and no doubt those levels themselves will move up and down and from side to side at different hours on different days for each of us. I want print to be part of the mix; it will be part of the mix. But there’s no turning back now.

    Have you seen the Fry book? Amazing.

  6. Love that “no water cooler needed” line. The bookstore closed, video store closed, record store, newstand, movie theater, etc. Thanks IDEO for evoking the day when we don’t have to actually interact with other people at all (but look at all those fascinating hyperlinks).

  7. Being a geek myself I love all this sort of toys but as a reader I guess they dont add anything to make me forget the print.
    I think the real challenge now is not in the gadget but in how is going to change the relationship between publishing companies, editors and authors, the rights in a new market model, the future of the bookstores and publishers themselves, etc

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