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Style of the Times

August 25, 2008

The book has been around for centuries in its currently recognisable form. Whether cranked out of the printer by a print-on-demand publisher five minutes ago, or carefully illustrated by monks 900 years ago, the book is recognisable to all who are familiar with it.

Technology has crept in to change many aspects of books and writing, but the act of reading words printed on paper has not changed. We may have books on tape and e-books, but the book is still the common form of story transmission device.

I think the book as physical media is here to stay. Its form size and decoration will change according to the demands of the time, but as a physical objects books will remain. Only nanotechnology threatens the book. Readers of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age may be thinking of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer here, but I am thinking of something more mundane.

An object the shape and weight of a book, with pages you turn, but those pages can display one of many thousands of books stored within the device. Wirelessly connected, you can update the stories contained within as often as you wish. That kind of device doesn’t yet exist. Current rudimentary e-book readers don’t fulfil their task very well. Who likes reading with a light shone in their eyes?

I’m imagining a device that is more like the books we buy today, with pages you turn, but one that can be set to display whatever text you wish. Pages that don’t need battery-chugging backlights, because the material itself mimics paper so well.

If nanotechnology can give us not a replacement for books, but a new type of book, one with the form and physicality of books we enjoy today, but with added functionality of a networked book, then long may technology march on.

Until then, hands off my dead tree publishing.

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