Victus Spiritus


Are Web Consumption Patterns the Future of Books

03 Mar 2011

Kevin Kelly revealed his thoughts on the future of publishing at TOC (Tools of Change) and captured the essence of that talk in the Technium, Readers of the Screen. Extrapolation is an educated guessing game at best, but it's a great way to exercise one's imagination. These are the key points which Kevin highlights:

1) Screening -- ubiquitous screens everywhere, and all things on every screen. We are becoming people of the screen

2) Interacting -- we'll interact with books with gestures, voices, hands, and in non-linear modes

3) Sharing -- reading will become an increasing social activity, and books will weave together into a shared library

4) Accessing -- shifting from owning books to having instant, constant access to books

5) Flowing -- moving away from static, fixed pages to streams and flows, as in Twitter, RSS feeds, Facebook walls, Netflix, lifeblogs.

6) Generating -- value will come from uncopyable attributes generated around books instead of in copies of books.

I concur with the majority of Mr. Kelly's list, with a couple of caveats and an addition. 

I believe Kevin has undervalued the precious nature of concentrated attention. I foresee a backlash to unfocused stream based scanning. If my own habits are correlated to future trends, readers will seek dedicated, quiet, and concentrated reading on personal devices. Interaction is a placeholder for communication of relevance, and there's little doubt that structured annotations, search and ongoing scans of published works will result in topic subscription, social curation, focused search, and batch reading activity cycles.

The future form of the book is not something we can imagine without a complete disconnect from legacy printed structure. Story telling and documentation will adopt forms which best enable authors to express themselves to their primary audience. An evolving description language will disrupt limited utility fixed forms (html vs ePub standards).

If we're predicting the future of storytelling and the distribution of knowledge, why not make a far out guess. It's possible that we will project the act of live storytelling globally. Instead of physical screens why not tap directly into the imagination of readers and listeners by bypassing optical and auditory channels, and connect directly to higher level yet more abstract receptors. If you've ever been fully immersed in a brilliant book, been swallowed by a fantastic film, or moved with a mind blowing live concert you can relate to artists transcending the medium, and connecting directly to a primal part of our minds.

I've included Kevin's TOC talk below: