Yesterday I watched a video on YouTube of a child attempting to manipulate a magazine as if it were an iPad.
Eh? Bear with me.
As expected, the futile motions and the child’s baffled reactions are pretty funny, but it also made me ponder once again how touchscreen devices and future developments in technology will influence children’s perception of and attitude towards books, but more importantly, the act of reading itself.
Whilst digital content is currently co-existing alongside traditional printed media, it’s quite conceivable that in a decades time when it has the potential to overshadow it’s paper kin (rather than outright replace it), a child might live throughout their early years – before they have the opportunity to venture into the world alone and discover alternatives – rarely, if ever, reading “old” books and magazines.
If children only know books and applications that can employ videos, music, games and reader interactivity in a wide variety of ways, will paper and ink still be fulfilling? Will classic literature need to be remade in new digital dimensions to be valid for the next generation? There will certainly be very interesting and immersive techniques that will enable readers to connect with stories in unique ways, but I fear that older works might be neglected.
However, there’s also the possibility they will turn to printed books, and the contemplative, often passive manner of reading they foster, as an antidote to a constantly active, sometimes overloaded medium. It seems context plays a large part here – how would a reader focus on and engage with a multitude of different medias whilst braving a packed rush hour train journey, with all the physical restraints and stressful stimuli that entails?
I apologise in advance for any work put off due to random video YouTube tangents as a result of this post.
On the fabulous The Literary Platform I came across this video Ideo have produced showing three concepts they have created around the future of the book. I love Ideo, they consistently come up with inventive and imaginative technological developments that take account of social factors and personal practices. However, I have to say, I am disappointed with their ideas for the future of the book and I’m surprised that they appear to have overlooked so many of the interesting questions around books as objects, the challenges of e-Readers and the augmented reading experience that are currently being considering in so much detail by others.
All three of the concept designs (called Newton, Coupland and Alice) are shown as prototypes for the iPad. This suggests to me that the idea that a book might be a souvenir of an experience (e.g. James Bridle) or an object for sharing (e.g. Bookcrossing) does not appear to have been considered in the design process. In my exploration of augmented reading over the past few months I have come to think of a book as the amalgamation of object, content, design, distribution method, author and reader. It might be getting a little pedantic but I would say that what Ideo have produced are prototypes for the Future of Reading rather than the Future of the Book.
So what will this future reading experience be? We are offered three versions.
Newton might best be described as an application for managing material already published on the Internet. It allows you to collate, compare and contrast different sources and materials around a particular topic.
Coupland is a form of book-related user-generated content and social network. Reading lists and recommendations can be compiled and shared allowing everyone to see and comment on the most popular books within a professional network. Individuals can contribute book reviews and content can be shared between different organisations and networks.
Alice combines hypertext, hypermedia and location-based services to create an augmented, reader-created narrative path through a story. Primarily presented as text-based Alice suggests that readers actions (in the example, tilting the iPad in a particular direction) might open up new branches to the story. Other actions might include being in a specific location where a particular set of GPS co-ordinates would trigger more of the story.
One of the most interesting aspects to me is how these future ‘books’ conceive of authors. While all three concepts require authors for the ‘book’ to be complete they each have a different model. Newton relies on writers who are producing content elsewhere on the Internet and Coupland relies on people within an organisation creating content for the ‘book’. Only Alice has bespoke writing and a dedicated author at the heart of the project which is then augmented by existing content. These approaches to authorship are not new of course but I find it fascinating that Ideo consider all of them to be examples of ‘books’ and I wonder how these fit with my concept of book-as-object-plus-content-plus-design-plus-distribution method-plus-reader. I can’t help feeling that the ecology of books is broader and more diverse than these concept designs acknowledge.
Andy demonstrating Tales of Things at Be2Camp Brum 2010; via Meshed Media
Today’s post is another presentation I heard at Be2camp Brum 2010 last week. (It was truly an inspiring and thought-provoking day!) Tales of Things was presented by Andy Hudson-Smith from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL. Tales of Things explores social memory and asks what happens if we can tag objects in our everyday environment and track these objects – even after we’ve passed them on to someone else.
Entering details of an object into the Tales of Things website allows you to generate a unique QR code for that item which can be printed out and attached to the object. When the QR code is ‘read’ by a camera the web page for that object is triggered. Because Be2Camp Brum was loosely focused around the theme of libraries Andy used tagging books as an example, suggesting that tagged books would be able to use Twitter to keep previous owners up to date with the book’s current location and status.
The Tales of Things website suggests that:
“The project will offer a new way for people to place more value on their own objects in an increasingly disposable economy. As more importance is placed on the objects that are already parts of people’s lives it is hoped that family or friends may find new uses for old objects and encourage people to think twice before throwing something away.”
Promoting the sharing and exchange of objects in this way is obviously interesting in the context of bookleteer and I did actually tag a couple of eBooks with QR codes generated by Tales of Things for Pitch Up & Publish 10: Augmented Reading a few weeks back. Perhaps it’s time for me to go back and revisit that and see where it might lead..
If you want to read more about the project see here, or if you just want to get on and tag your stuff then look here..
Last week I began to draft a post about digital artist Dave McKean’s illustrations. I was planning to return to the half-written post when I got an email from Giles saying did I know that Dave McKean illustrated a piece of writing for COIL (the Journal of the Moving Image which Giles founded and edited) in the late 1990’s? Well, no, I didn’t. But now I do, this makes a perfect focus for writing about his work. All images below are from The Entrapment from COIL 7 | 1998. Thanks for the tip Giles!
Since 1994 Dave McKean’s been producing extensively layered images using computers and digital manipulation. In his collaborations with writers, illustrations and text appear to be intertwined so that the paper becomes part of the content and I was interested to find out how he achieves this effect. In an interview on Apple’s website he describes how his approach has changed with the increasing sophistication of digital technologies.
“The major things that have changed … are the tools and materials I’ve been able to use. When I started on ‘The Sandman,’ I was aiming toward a translucent collage, a layered look, an insubstantial feeling where you’ve just got an atmosphere. I tried to do that with things like double exposures and different printing techniques. To a degree, this approach is always pretty limited by the fact that the illustration has to be a physical object and, if I have to photograph it, limited by gravity.”
The illustrations for COIL were made in 1998 (COIL 7) for a supposedly ‘anonymous’ piece actually written by legendary indie producer Keith Griffiths (of Koninck fame) about a film he produced by Iain Sinclair & Chris Petit called the Falconer – itself about another ‘legendary’ 60s filmmaker called Peter Whitehead. Its a many-layered piece about becoming trapped in the layers of legend and hype spun around Whitehead and the narrator’s (“Darke”) attempt to unravel the story. Darke is a thinly veiled characterisation of the Falconer’s script writer (and 90s film critic) Chris Darke. The techniques of double exposure and layering that Dave McKean mentions in the interview with Apple are clearly visible in the collages of text and images he produced for this.
The process of creating these illustration begins with “endless drawings.” Out of these, one is chosen and painted onto a backboard of colour photographs and paper collages, a basic canvas already with a life to it, containing interesting textures, colours and shapes. Illustration comes next where McKean paints the characters onto the canvas. From here, the process moves onto the computer. “Sometimes I finish it [the painting] quite well and sometimes I leave it open and rough, scan it and make sense of it in the computer. The compositing is the fun bit, really, and dragging all these elements together all happens very quickly.” As McKean writes, it’s an explorative way of working, “I like the fact that I don’t really know what I’m aiming toward completely. I have an idea, but it’s also the shapes shifted and composited in the computer that allow me to find a nice blend.”
In fact, it seems that his process and approach has remained surprisingly constant as tools and materials have evolved. In this article, he suggests this goes back to his college days at Berkshire College of Art and Design, “Before drawing anything we had to have a clear idea of what we were trying to achieve. So to this day, I still write personal briefs for myself. I still need to be clear in my own mind what I’m doing.”
For me, what is so inspiring about this description of the process is that having a clear plan from the outset in no way constrains the experimental, organic nature of the final illustrations. As he writes, “Techniques may change and go in and out of fashion, but ideas are always worth exploring and re-interpreting.” I wonder if we could get him to design an eBook…
Thing of the past? Oxfam books in (l-r) Huddersfield, Leamington, London
Over the weekend I found myself thinking – what if eBooks (for eBook readers not the bookleteer type of eBooks..) become the dominant way of reading? What will this mean for people who buy secondhand books?
It’s clear that many people are thinking about the possibilities of secondhand eBooks – and that this fits in with the 3 ways of sharing I wrote about last week. In their posts Nick Harkaway on Future Book and Chris Meadows at teleread discuss how secondhand eBooks aren’t currently possible because of their intangibility (when you download an eBook you essentially ‘lease’ the code which you can’t legally pass onto anyone else) and because secondhand eBooks are indistinguishable from new eBooks (so their value doesn’t decrease in the same way over time). Which is very interesting but I feel it doesn’t really address the potential social effect of increasing dominance of eBooks except to mention that the lack of secondhand eBooks is bad news for second-hand booksellers. And that’s true.. but I think it’s also bad news for second-hand book readers..
What if you can’t afford full-price books? Textbooks especially can be prohibitively expensive and often aren’t needed for more than the duration of the course. At the moment the cost of the book can be regained in part by selling the book on when you graduate. This option will be lost.. As will the option to buy a secondhand textbook for less than full-price. Or what if you’re a teenager beginning to explore the wide world of literature – secondhand bookshops are fantastic sources for classic books at low-cost. Will eBooks be able to match this? Not to mention of course that the teenager would have to be able to afford an eReader in the first place..
Perhaps this will all work itself out in the future when the entire publishing / reading experience has become digital and eReaders are as accessible as library cards. However, I imagine there’s going to be a transition before this happens that might need to be negotiated if secondhand book readers aren’t going to lose out.
Art Space Tokyo is an intimate guide to the Tokyo art world by Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod and a very beautiful book describing the buildings and neighbourhoods of 12 distinctive Tokyo galleries. There are maps for each of the areas, illustrations of the galleries by Nobumasa Takahashi (the cover is a composite map of Tokyo by Craig Mod) alongside interviews and essays.
Inside pages from Art Space Tokyo
In the Preface to Art Space Tokyo Ashley and Craig write:
“We believe that art is not just an end goal, but a process involving all manner of people. Aside from the artists themselves, the art world is made up of collectors, curators, architects, businessmen, npo organizations and the patrons — those of us who gain pleasure from simply viewing and interacting with art — all taking part in some way to foster the creation and consumption process.”
Although here they were referring to the people who work in and with galleries and art they also applied this philosophy to the creation of Art Space Tokyo. Originally printed in 2008 the book was sold out by Spring 2009. In 2010 Ashley and Craig decided that they would like to update and reprint the book as well as create a free web edition for the iPad extending the original concept with videos of the spaces and interviews with local characters, sound-recordings that reveal the ambience of the neighbourhoods and rich interactive maps.
Illustration for GA Gallery, Yoyogi / Harajuku
In the spirit of shared making, it was at this point that they turned to Kickstarter as a way to raise the money necessary to achieve their goal. Kickstarter allows people to advertise their project and ask for contributions towards realising it. Requested contributions for any project range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars – with your reward increasing alongside your contribution. For example, a pledge of $25 Art Space Tokyo would have got you a PDF of the book plus access to all project updates. At the other end of the scale for a pledge of $2500 you would have received all of the rewards of the other pledge amounts (e.g. copy of the book, original artwork) plus a 1-day tour of the art spaces of Tokyo with Craig Mod.
Is this shared making? Well, yes, I think it is.. As they write in the preface art – or making – is a process not just a product and through Kickstarter Ashley and Craig were offering the opportunity to become part of this process. And I hope the benefits were mutual – they got to reprint the book, contributors got a tangible reward (and presumably a warm fuzzy feeling from helping out two artists).
p.s. If you were thinking of contributing you’re too late… Ashley and Craig wanted $15,000. By 1 May when the pledges closed they had 265 backers and had raised $23,790!
This was the question I typed into Google as I wondered how the iPad, Kindle and other eBook readers (or rather, developers of eBooks for these platforms) might accommodate the tangible properties of books such as size, paper type, pop-up illustrations and so on, that vary from book to book and make paper books such a pleasure to touch, hold and feel.
In answer to my question Google came up with a couple of examples of projects that claim to be bringing pop-up books to the iPad. The first is Pilgrim’s Progress by Tako Games. Although entirely computer-generated the video that accompanies this eBook suggests that Pilgrim’s Progress combines moving around a 3-dimensional scene that closely resembles a paper pop-up book (the ‘cover’ of the book is a very literal digitisation of an antique leather book) with some dynamic elements such as changing text within the text box. I found it difficult to tell from the video how much of this would be controlled by the reader.
The second suggestion by Google was Alice in Wonderland by AtomicAntelope. While clearly drawing on pop-up books for inspiration this feels like it is also pushing the format into new areas by exploiting the touchscreen to trigger events and, quite beautifully, using the built-in accelerometer and orientation sensors to control visual effects such as flying cards, Alice growing and shrinking and rocking the pigbaby to sleep.
While I have to confess that watching the Alice in Wonderland video made me wish I owned an iPad so I could play with this, I also wonder – if every book feels like an electronic device then, however visually compelling the eBook, won’t this somehow feel like a sensory reduction of the reading experience?
A set of Bookcubes generated using the bookleteer API
James Bridle of booktwo.org was one of the participants at the Pitch Up and Publish: Augmented Reading a couple of weeks ago, and he talked a little about the idea of books as symbols and the related BookCube project he’d done using the bookleteer API.
Here, I’ll just give a summary of the project. James has written a post on booktwo.org describing the project which I really recommend you to read because it’s seriously interesting and covers more topics than I describe here…
James started with the idea that the lifespan of a book looks something like the drawing in the image above. There is a short period of the book-as-object acting as it’s own advertisement, then a period of time where you are reading the book and taking in the content, then during the final, and longest, amount of time the book-as-object acts as a souvenir of the reading period.
James has already begun to address the idea of digital souvenirs for eBooks with his bkkeepr project and with the bookleteer API he extended this to create automatically generated Bookcubes. These cubes display the information collected by bkkeepr and includes an image of the book cover. Over time James imagines the Bookcubes to build up on your shelf as a visible and tangible souvenir of your eBook reading. For bookleteer, this is an interesting tangent – instead of being an object to read it becomes an object that marks the fact that reading has taken place – and the content becomes separated from the form.
An iPad disguised to fit in on a book shelf. * See the bottom of this post for more.
Fitting in very nicely with our discussions on Augmented Reading, Jakob Nielsen, the legend of usability studies, has conducted a test on the relative reading experience of reading a short story (Ernest Hemingway, in case you’re interested) on the iPad, Kindle eReader, PC and printed book.
Twenty-four participants read the story in each of the different formats. On average the story took 17 minutes 20 seconds to read however both the Kindle and the iPad came in slower than the printed book by 10.7% and 6.2% respectively.
In their comments participants said they found the printed book more relaxing than any of the eReaders and that the PC reminded them of work. I guess Carlton hadn’t seen this study when they launched their AR books for children – to be experienced on a PC.
However, it’s also good news for eReaders and suggests that they no longer offer a worse reading experience than printed books and that in the end your choice of reading format might come down to personal preference as in the case of music listening where, despite the ease of CDs and MP3s, some people still prefer to listen to music on vinyl. This is another conversation I had at PU&P: Augmented Reading where I was discussing the topic of choice and formats with the guys from getmorelocal.co.uk in the context of trying to reach people who might not be inclined to go online to look for information. Indeed, this was one of the motivations behind the tangible format of bookleteer eBooks.
New Scientist reports that UK publisher Carlton have launched two titles in their Augmented Reality series. The books – Fairyland Magic and Dinosaurs Alive – include a CD with software to install on your PC. Once this is done you point your webcam at the pages of the book and the webcam image of the book displayed on your computer monitor is augmented with hand-drawn, moving fairies or dinosaurs. The New Scientist article does a great job of describing the perceived need for books to embrace technologies and the potential complications resulting from this. You can also watch Carlton’s video promoting Fairyland Magic on YouTube.
I find the books interesting in the context of a discussion we had at the Pitch Up & Publish Augmented Reading last week when David suggested that interactive digital content of this kind (we weren’t talking about the Carlton books at the time) diminishes the experience of reading rather than augmenting it. David’s argument was that adding screen-based computation to a book imposes rules and restricts interaction in a way that a paper-and-ink book doesn’t.
Books Come Alive seem a good illustration of this argument as the book has to be in proximity of the computer screen and webcam in order to create the digital images. This sets up what seems to me to be a quite unnatural reading position as the priority becomes orienting the page to the webcam. Instead of reading being an intimate experience between one person and a book this opens it up to a wider audience for whoever happens to be in sight of the computer monitor. I wonder what the effects – good or bad – will be of this?