Friday, May 4, 2012

Books are Dead! Long Live Books!

The trouble with electronic books isn't that they're killing paper books, it's that they're an evolutionary dead end.

Books are amazing.  I will be a reader until the day I die.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that they'll have to pry a book out of my cold, dead hand before they dress me in my Sunday best and bury me in the ground.

I kid. I'm being cremated.

So, I'm not exaggerating when I say that I love books.  I love e-books too.  Being able to get on a plane with my Nook and know that I've got hundreds of  books to choose from should I grow bored with the one I'm reading is pure heaven.

But e-books are an evolutionary dead end, much like the 3D TV or the iPod.  People love them and buy them but they have a limited life and will eventually die out.

E-books represent a convergence of technologies.  They take a book and put it on a device that you can carry around.  They give you instant access to your library and the ability to buy new books on demand.  But that's it.  They don't make the reading experience any better.  They don't offer the reader a new way to interact with the story.  They're just as passive as books themselves.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Like I said:  I love books.  I don't think they're going anywhere. But e-books feel like a missed opportunity.

It's no secret that I love Star Trek.  My father and I used to watch it on the weekends and it was one of my favorite things to do.  One of the things I loved most was the holodeck technology.  When Picard would recreate his favorite book and become the main character, I thought that nothing could be greater.

We're not quite at holodecks, but we are seeing a convergence of different technologies that could allow us to interact with stories in ways never before possible.  Our mobile devices can do more than simply tell us a story.  It can allow us to BE the story.

Sounds far fetched?  It's not.  Nearly all phones now come equipped with some form of location aware technology.  My phone knows when I'm at the grocery store and reminds me to pick up orange juice.  Apps exist that tell us where we are and provide us with information about our location.  Our phones can tell us where our friends are and what they're doing.  And Google is actively testing augmented reality glasses that can superimpose information and images over the world around you. 

Take this technology and pair it with great stories and storytelling and you have the potential to take e-books to a new level.  No longer just passive devices that we read, but devices that allow us to interact with those stories. 

I believe I've already mentioned the app Zombies, Run! from a London company called Six to Start.  That app is a first step in the right direction.  While not yet totally interactive, it does form a story around you as you run and then allow you to take that story into different directions based on actions you take later on.  I believe that this is the first step toward the kind of interactive story experience that make people fall in love with stories all over again.  You want to save books and get kids reading more?  This is how you do it.

I love my Nook, but I hope that it goes the way of the CD player or the iPod.  I hope that better technology comes along and swallows it.  It's holding us back from taking advantage of the true potential of the technology in our pockets.

And, who knows?  Maybe one day I'll get my holodeck.  

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