Writing is a fundamentally social activity. Even when you do it alone, in a locked room, wearing your new noise-canceling headphones, you are (hopefully) writing for someone. A private language, says Dr. Wittgenstein, is an impossibility. Reading is a social activity too, because at the very least, it is an encounter of two minds. But usually, there are many more minds involved: other texts, other writers, co-authors, co-readers, book clubs, literature professors, snooty bookstore employees, publishers, and book critics.
Yet, these are quiet social encounters. They require a measure of focus, solitude, and introspection. It would be a mistake then to envision the future of the book simply in terms of social media. Part of what makes a book a book is its ability to block a part of the present physical world in favor of atemporal virtual reality. The book literally blocks vision. It privileges mental constructs over immediate input of the senses. To be lost in a book is to project one’s sense of being into another world.
Let’s imagine then a better book, one that further protects the sanctity of mental life, at least for the duration of reading. Imagine a book which, when opened, literally surrounds its reader in a protective cocoon. Imagine a book that can balance the reader’s dopamine levels. Imagine a wearable winter coat book, a pillow and blanket book, an umbrella book, a climate-controlled book built like a house or a nuclear fallout shelter or a biodome.
Paper, as it turns out, is a pretty durable material—much more durable than, let’s say, silicon chips or copper circuit boards. It can also be used for insulation, it bends and burns better, and can make for versatile construction material (for the folding of paper planes, for example). I say this without irony and without fetishism or nostalgia. Whatever technology comes beyond the book, it should at the very least do all those things better than cloth and paper.