How will the definition of “book” change?
The Neverending Story , the a German fantasy novel by Michael Ende, features a rather peculiar book of the same name being central to the story. The book allows for the reader to become part of the story, to the extent that the story itself is dependent upon the qualities of the reader. The reader becomes part of the story, and therefore the Story is different (if only slightly) depending on who reads it. Indeed, the story might very well be different for one person, if read several times over a lifetime.
Whereas a ‘static’ book is the encapsulation of various and sundry ideas of an author (or authors) and editors, once it’s bound and shipped it remains just that until such time as a revised printing might come along. Those ideas reach out, though, and transport the reader along in a passive sort of way. The reader is observer, incapable of changing anything about the encapsulation. She can only consume.
As access to wireless bandwidth increases, as flexible display technology gets closer to paper in texture, you’ll be closer and closer to the book described in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in terms of technological sophistication, a leather bound tablet computer with gilt pages instead of Gorilla Glass, with a smorgasbord of functionality, and you well may have the last book anyone needs to buy or lend (in terms of saving space on the bookshelf, at any rate) but what about the stories themselves? Are they to remain static encapsulations?
In certain instances that’s going to be necessary. It would be a mistake to let trolls at the text of the Odyssey, or would it? What about while an author is living and interacting with their work? The video game industry had a hit with GTA V. Some billion dollars for one instance of interactivity in a digital sandbox. What happens when books and video games blend together finally? And when the data is analyzed for trends, what will we see as our most common dreams that we desire to be real?
“Book” is going to become more and more about the totality of available experience and less about something that gathers dust on a shelf, or merely takes up byte-space on silicon.