Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Digital Revolution


An article by Gaby Wood begins with the statement that Sir Tim Waterstone, who once owned a chain of bookshops, thinks ebooks will go into decline. They've suffered a decline in the USA, and so he thinks it inevitable that the UK will follow a similar trend.

At a guess, booksellers probably dream wistfully of the digital book's demise. But what about the other groups who have a more than passing interest? I don't think any of the other three  - Writers, Publishers or Readers - would want such a thing.

 Ms Wood thinks it depends on whether ebooks give us what we want. "Do they inspire us, and open our minds to new ways of thinking, as they certainly could? For the most part, no. Early on in the life of the Kindle, digital versions of commercial fiction replaced sales of paperbacks, and publishers had to adapt quickly. As a result, they now tend to think of digital books and printed books as different versions of the same thing. If they really saw the possibilities of the ebook and the virtues of the printed book for what they are, publishers would know the two forms are only very vaguely related."

I agree she has a point. But do I want gimmicky  enhancements locked into a book I'm reading? Call me an old throwback, but no, I certainly do not. For me a book is something with which I commune in silence and as I read, the characters live and breathe in my imagination. I don't want my interpretation of a character to be totalled because the publisher decided some Hollywood or Pop culture icon should speed onto the screen every time the hero is mentioned. I want to visualise my own hero, thank you very much.

People under 25 may clamour for such enhancements. If they do, I shall fear that their imaginations have atrophied under the barrage of  tv, film and media games, if not under the barrage of sound they receive these days. I'm surprised cinemas don't crumble away under the almost constant rumble of what I call "ultrasound" - that low rumble that accompanies every key moment, or the sudden bombardment that presages a moment of high drama. It's enough to make you think the Fire Drummers of Japan have got locked in the cinema basement. It's on so many tvs now, so there's no escape. Go upstairs to get some peace and you can still hear the ultrasound reverberating through the house even thought the dialogue is silent.

Ms Wood claims "There is so much material – visual, historical, musical, vocal – that can bring a text to life digitally," and I shudder to think what she has in mind. Her closing sentence is worrying -
"Thinking of ebooks and printed books as comparable is like assuming that anything conveyed by means of the written word is a poem.... Publishers have got to stop thinking of their digital products as “books”, and start imagining more expansive ways of communicating information. Until then, the digital revolution hasn’t even begun." 

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