Monday, April 5, 2010

The future

Maybe it's just me, but I absolutely have no interest in books on electronic devices as a subject for any great philosophical discussion. There is nothing magical about paper versus electronic screens: whichever allows me to read a book comfortably and at a reasonable price is fine by me. At the point where I'm reading David Copperfield, it doesn't matter to me in the least how I'm reading it if it's just the words written by Charles Dickens.

The thing is, the medium is the message. I read today that the Vook people have some mixed media material ready for the iPad (link). That, unlike the above, interests me. The question is, not whether the iPad (or any other device) is good for reading. Sooner or later there will be an electronic device that you or I think is good for reading, and if the price is right, we'll buy it. No, the question is, what is there that will be unique to the device and to the unique capabilities of the device. The iPad, for instance, plays music and video and games and so forth. It can do all of these things at once. So who will look at this device as a creative tool and come up with something that is simply iPad content? And what will that content be like?

Think about this. Movie cameras were invented around the late nineteenth century. Movies—narratives with a beginning and middle and an end, with closeups and longshots and editing—arrived around twenty years later, with the release of Birth of a Nation. Before Birth, there were short pieces of one sort or another, but that movie put it all together. Avatar isn't much different from Birth except it's technologically more sophisticated. They both share the basic cinematic cross-cutting and visual storytelling.

We're nowhere near The Birth of a Nation on the iPad (or whatever will come along that is the next generation of technology). But when we get there, it will be a new art form. Some kid playing around with a Wii today will be the creator who puts it all together.

I hope I'm around to see it.

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