I am here because, as much as my career has revolved around the reading, writing and publishing of books, the book, as a content delivery mechanism (whether print or digital), has limitations. The book, in fact, has become very disappointing in comparison to other things I can learn, do and experience through other mediums. While the book has become a shadow of its former self partly because of how often the form has been exploited and overproduced for profit (for the slightest and most banal of ideas), mostly I just see it as a less compelling way— even a last resort — for sharing ideas. I would rather attend a conference, I would rather read and write online articles, I would rather interact on social media (the horror!).
It doesn’t have to be this way. I still thrill at reading a beautifully written passage that fundamentally shifts how I see myself and the world—something that reminds me that most of what I know and believe has in fact come from a lifetime of unforgettable long-form reading experiences. In fact, every one of my major life changes can be traced back to a very influential book.
But the basic physical form of a book, as well as its direct digital corollary, the e-book, has not been successfully integrated into the larger digital network we are all immersed in. I ponder this question every day: Does the book belong apart, or outside, of this network, for a focused and sustained reading experience that is quiet and solitary, demanding reflection? Or does it belong inside the stream? Or perhaps it exists in both places at once, and we shift modes based on need and desire.
When I attend writers’ conferences, I often tell writers to think beyond the book, to think instead of the story or message they wish to share, rather than focusing on a particular container. There has been so much aspirational focus on writing and publishing a book without consideration for the many other ways we can share ideas in the digital age. I am here to think more deeply about the purpose of the book (to question its very definition), and to explore its place in the ecosystem of ideas, communication and collaboration.