22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Vision Session: The Evolution of Reading and Writing in the Networked Era

August 30, 2007 at 4:40 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Vision Sessions | Leave a comment


The Evolution of Reading and Writing in the Networked Era
Bob Stein, USC Annenberg Center, Institute for the Future of the Book
Reported by Mary Bailey

In the early days of books, when professors made notes in the margins and students added their notes when they read the same book, an ongoing conversation was created.  Bob Stein proposes that the future of the book is an ongoing conversation in the margin of the electronic book.  Turning the world of authorship and copyright on end, the book as we know it, published in a definitive form, never to be changed, would no longer exist.

An MIT project in 1981 began adding an audio/visual component to books.  Designed to enhance the book by answering the questions a reader might have as they read, it allowed the reader to control the speed, to reread sections, and to stop and think about what had happened in the book.  In effect, it was user driven rather than producer driven. 

Moving to 2004 and our remix culture, we are now talking about networked books, with comments added by readers. Stories could change before they are told.  Books could be written in chapters with comments added before the next chapter is written, thus creating an entirely new writing process, and possibly a new form of authorship. Software, called Sophie, has been developed which enables not only the writing and comment component but also audio versions, an interactive glossary, running commentaries of musical selections and more.

Consider blogs. We think, we write, we create, and others comment. We think, we write again, and others write again (we hope).  A new creation appears.  However, who is the author or creator now?  Is the author speaking, are those ommenting also authors, or is the book now speaking?  The book becomes dynamic and is no longer limited to text and static photos or illustrations; it now contains video and links to other sites.

If the work is always in process, will there ever be a version for copyright?  Will there ever be a final authoritative version?  Will copyright be necessary or will it become another piece of history? Will the original article become the least important piece and the discussion more interesting than the book or article? 

The challenge of the future will be how to deal with the changes. Bob Stein asks, “Given the vast amount of information and conversation available on any subject, should it be a goal to enable a single individual to master it?  What will it mean to be ‘human’ in the age of digital networking?  What is the definitive version or does anyone care?” 

In Bob Stein’s future, the book and reading are no longer a solitary pastime, but an interactive work developed by all who are interested. 


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