"Can it core a apple?""Oh, it can core a apple!"
Those lines come from a classic episode of The Honeymooners titled "Better Living Through TV." In it, Ralph buys time during a movie broadcast and appears as The Chef of the Future, presenting a tool—The Handy Housewife Helper—that will revolutionize the kitchen, a tool that will "do the work of all these old-fashioned gadgets." I thought of this earlier in the week when Nathan Bransford (you do read Nathan, don't you?) speculated on The Book of the Future.
Nathan compared the Book of the Future to the introduction of color to motion pictures in the 1920s and 30s. Once used as a 'special effect', color has become the default for movies and TV. If you're using B&W, you'd better have a damn good reason. Nathan wonders if a similar revolution is occurring with books. The technology exists, he points out, for books to be "colorful, interactive, three-dimensional. Imagine," he goes on, "the ease of a hyperlinked choose your own adventure novel or instructional videos within a cookbook."
It sounds fun. Marrying technologies to produce a true multi-media experience is not necessarily a bad thing. Imagine having your Chilton manual on a tablet with a 3-D image of your car's engine so you can really see where that cotter pin is, and being able to rotate the image and zoom in on it, for example. Or being able to see on video the moment your egg whites turn to meringue (though my own limited experience with this is you really do need to go by feel, not by look). For fiction, maybe there's some way to have a truly interactive experience with your book wherein you get to guess the identity of the jewel thief or the mysterious lover. There are a lot of possibilities. Sony's Wonderbook seems pretty cool, but right now it still looks like all style and no substance, a lot of flash and sizzle, and little more than a video game masquerading as a book. For this to be truly innovative, it will take thinkers with more imagination than me thinking outside the box. I am not that guy. I worry too much that technology will manifest itself in little more than a cheap grab for cash (see my earlier blog post on this subject).
To me the beauty of books is their very simplicity. They use words—only words--to paint the pictures, set the scene, make us think and feel, to present ideas. That’s it. Words on a page, nothing more. Change what it's printed on, from rag to pulp to a video terminal or touch screen; go from ink to pixels to whatever; cover it with leather or cloth and wrap it in crinkly plastic slipcovers: In the end it's still words on a page, words with power. It doesn't need anything else. It's my hope that, for The Book of the Future, technology never trumps story, that pictures and video inserts or sound never get in the way of the beauty of words. Long live books. Even if they can't core a apple. Have a great weekend, everyone.