Why I’m Here

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Beyond the book, eh? What is more beyond than the book? What technology is as advanced as the book, and has lasted so long to collect and impart information for hundreds of years? Ancient tomes can still be read, still make sense. Microsoft Word can’t even open files that are ten years old. CD-ROMs and Zip drives are long forgotten. Digital technology ages faster than anything as much as it promises eternal life. Or maybe not. Is not the text the thing? Is not content the king? What about books is different than platforms, magazines, web pages, blogs?

I still think a book is a collection of information that the reader spends a sustained amount of time engaging with—hours, days, weeks. That can even happen with an e-book. Hell, I read Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram (2003) on a first-generation Kindle (not sure why, exactly). In print that would have been 944 pages. Even in black on a gray screen, it held my attention. Only words, only words. I myself write books on music and nature, on aesthetics in evolution. On jamming with birds, whales, and insects. Many of my books have music attached. They used to include CDs but now the publishers say “let’s just offer a link for readers to download the music for free; CDs are an out-of-date technology.” Maybe so, but call me a dinosaur; I’m not ready yet to give my music away in an entirely virtual way. And the CD for Bug Music has sold nearly as many copies as the book, so go figure.

Still, I envision new reading experiences that incorporate music and imagery. I made a PDF e-book of Bug Music with color pictures that you can zoom in on far more than you could do in any printed book. Took about ten minutes to make, and looks great on an iPad. But the publisher said, “nice, but we can’t sell that.” Too specialized. I was disappointed, and hoped they could do a much better job designing such a thing than I could. (I’ll send a copy to any of you readers who asks me for one.)

I would like to see e-books that are beautifully designed in a uniquely electronic way. There will be newly luminous pictures, astonishing sounds that appear just when you read about them. When you increase or reduce the font size the whole design will adapt in intelligent, beautiful ways.

I guess I still see books as beautiful objects; I want to know and to love them, even in their ephemeral electronic forms. It just takes enough people thinking and scheming about it. Maybe that’s what we’ll accomplish here in the next few days. Who knows?

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