In the academic world, there’s a building consensus that video games are the next big narrative form; there are an increasing number of games studies programs. I’m not a gamer, and not particularly convinced of their artistic value; but the argument could certainly be made that one of the futures of the book — particularly the future of the desire for entertainment, which was first taken from the book by film and then by television — has moved on to the game world.
Dan Visel, a founder of the appropriately named Institute for the Future of the Book, points out that, first of all, a “book” can mean many things: A cookbook, a comic book, a history book and an electronic book are all animals of different stripes.
“It would be a mistake to think that these various forms have a single, unified future,” Visel says. “Rather, I think it’s more appropriate to say that there are futures of the book.” He sees some books, such as romances and thrillers, migrating easily to an electronic form.
Other types of books are not only meant to be read, but meant to be seen: Like when a New York subway rider whips out a copy of Going Rogue by Sarah Palin. “That sort of book largely has value as social display,” Visel says. “It’s not so much an instrument of revelation, because all the revelations in that book, for example, were posted online as soon as anyone could get their hands on it.”
Textbooks, phone books and other compendiums of information could perhaps serve readers better in electronic versions. In fact, Visel says, “I think the electronic book as it’s currently understood — basically a simple electronic text file — will take over a fair amount of the market that’s currently served by printed books.”
interviewed at NPR
[T]here is a great deal of personal narrative on the Web – some of which carries over to the print world as memoirs, some of which doesn’t. I think the online work is marginally more interesting: because there it’s unclear where the edges of the work are. The reader can pull at it; writing can stretch across time and space. Granted, most of isn’t very interesting. But it does seem like we are moving into a celebrity culture, where readers tend to follow personalities rather than their writing. Maybe ten years ago Momus said that “in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen people,” and I think the way the web works now does tend to encourage that.
The great power of the written word – why the word “book” continues to mean so much to us – is its fundamental democracy: that anyone literate can set pen to paper and write something. Technology, the truism goes, is politically neutral; but I wonder if this can be true in a practical sense when the tools of expression are so expensive.