I focused on how technology can enhance and change our engagement with narratives in a previous post, so I’m going to step back and look at the highly immersive nature of text-based books as a medium.
After recently finishing a book and scanning my shelves for my next literary foray, my eyes settled on a fairly large book, and although initially daunted by its length, knowing that it would take me a fair while to finish even if engrossed, I soon started to relish the idea. I realised I would have a portable, episodic experience that I could dip into for the next few weeks, becoming instantly immersed as I did so – the narrative spurring ever more interest and giving heightened importance to the outcome (due to discovering more about the characters and investing in their stories), and possibly even gaining relevance to external events as I progressed.
Being able to burn through an entire book in one go makes the experience rather like watching a film; reading it in parts is more akin to a TV series, or a video game with a story that is revealed as the player moves ahead. It could be suggested the latter two allow a greater level of expectation and intrigue to build between narrative points (due to the real-world time elapsed), but all three mediums still dictate visual messages to the audience, albeit being open to multiple interpretations. Books allow the reader to paint their own visuals in their mind, forming structures within, giving characters familiar faces from their own lives, and grasping unique meanings from what is said and done, filtered through their own past and ideologies. In short, they are dictated by readers as well as authors, leading to individual, self-contained experiences which change as they are reread later on in life.
It will be interesting to see how as technology constantly moves forward and the standard of presenting stories evolves beyond text and the spoken word how this experience might be preserved. Might it even be mimicked, through bespoke forms of virtual reality systems, or audio books where the choice of narrator is tailored to the listener?