TED often has inspiring and intriguing short talks. Though, as a long-time visitor to the site I’m less easily wowed than I used to be. One from the latest crop is a commercial demo. It’s what Push Pop Press (or possibly TED) think is “the next-generation digital book”. Take a look, it is impressive:
I suspect the technologically clever windmill that turns when you blow will lose its wow in a few weeks, but the possibilities of the visuals is stunning. Though in the demo the data “visualizations” were on the whole less than impressive. Not a patch on for example the more static data visuals TED demonstrated a while back.
And that’s my frustration with Push Pop Press’ Al Gore book, it looks good, it may be fun, but it is static. Umberto Eco classified literature on a scale from closed to open texts. Closed texts tell you what to think, open texts encourage exploration and readers to form their own understandings. (Although his distinction was intended to describe a significant feature of fiction, I think it applies at least as powerfully to educational and “factual” books.) Looked at with Eco’s eyes, Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth is a closed text, it fails to encourage exploration or imagination, but tells us what to think. Despite its title Our Choice is not about us learning and growing, it’s about us watching and enjoying a masterful performance by the programmers and designers.
This iBook is a digital equivalent of the bread and circuses TV or the mega-Church “worship” that are the opium of the people in the wealthy and comfortable bubble that is Western Culture. It is indeed a next-generation digital book as the corporates would like it to be, saleable and static, a disposable commodity. A true next-generation digital book would by contrast be open, it would encourage exploration and conversation far from being disposable it would open new possibilities and thoughts on return readings.
The technology for such a book does not need teams of expensive programmers. With minimal coding skills we could do it with a combination of HTML and WordPress. The linkages and connections made possible by <a href=http://… together with the ongoing conversation and community that blogging tools allow are all that is needed for a true Next-generation Digital Book. I love to see us produce a FOSOTT (free, open source Old Testament textbook) that as well as a paper edition offered an e-book version that included such interactivity.