07 June 2010

Wisest Thing I’ve Read Today

From the Wall Street Journal’s interview with Jeff Bezos of Amazon on the future of digital books:

If you think about books, it’s astonishing. It’s very hard to find a technology that has remained in mostly the same form for 500 years. And anything that has stubbornly resisted improvement for 500 years is going to be hard to improve.

That is what we’re trying to do with Kindle. To do that, you have to capture the essential element of a book, which is that it disappears when you get into the flow of the story. None of us when we’re reading a book think about the ink and the glue and the stitching. All that fades away, and you get into the author’s universe.

But you also can’t ever out-book the book. You need to look for a series of things that you can do with an electronic device like Kindle that you could never do with a physical book.
Things like easy searching, flexible formats (allowing larger type), hypertext links, automatic updates, narrative branches, links to discussion forums, and of course Bezos’s favorite Kindle feature: quick and easy purchases.

The spread of the printed book 500 years ago led to profound changes in literature, particularly the rise of the novel to its current perch as our top written art. The spread of digital book readers with all their features will probably produce new storytelling forms that may supplant the traditional novel by offering more or better ways to “get into the author’s universe.”

I’m not surprised to read articles like this one from the Naperville Sun, reporting that even teens still like to read “novels” as paper codices. The modern novel was developed in concert with the modern codex, after all. The real question is how teens and the rest of us will prefer to take in stories as entertainment when novels aren’t the last word.


Sam said...

I think I've heard Bezos describe that reader experience before as "Gameflow."
It's a great term and, for me, I get better Gameflow from my e-reader than from a real book.

However, I think that if there are too many --or any -- hyperlinks, etc..., that they will disturb the flow.

J. L. Bell said...

I think the term “gameflow” is useful, but it also highlights what might change as new technology opens up storytelling possibilities.

In most narratives, there’s a single, author-directed flow of events, or revelation of events. A codex, with one page after another, is an ideal tool for presenting that flow.

Interactive digital formats can offer multiple choices and directions—different flows for different readers, or different occasions. Some books try that already: Meanwhile, Choose Your Own Adventure, Hopscotch, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, arguably even books with long footnotes. But dealing with those options requires flipping around in a way that’s unnecessary with electronic readers.

Of course, different flows may not be necessary or even work with every type of story.