libraries | play | information | media | policy | culture

2007-11-28

Kindling, part 3

The third reason Kindle will fail is because it's not paper.

According to research covered by William Powers in "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal," paper holds "intrinsic properties," or affordances, that enable us to perform certain tasks better. He acknowledges that electronic media are much more powerful in specific ways: digital text, for example, is fully searchable and enables more efficient nonlinear cross-referencing. But what's most intriguing about paper is its power lies in its limitations.

It seems we are cognitively wired to interact with paper. Because paper is a three-dimensional physical object with limited space for text and images, it encourages cognitive immersion. It simply focuses our minds better than a screen can, which should be no surprise to anyone whose attention has been eroded by email. Furthermore, the physical presence of papers or a book communicates with us spatially. By holding a book in our hands and turning pages with our fingers we engage our brains with an input other than our eyes and enact fine motors skills—neither of which digital text and hypertext can do. We hold in our hands a physical representation of what's going on in our minds.

Apple has had a flurry of patents over the past two years for such things as multi-touch screens, two-sided dual-screen devices, and motion sensors. It's conceivable these functions could potentially replace a book's three-dimensional advantage by, for instance, being combined in a device that scrolled text or turned a page every time the user flipped the device to the screen on the other side. However, no such device yet exists.

Meanwhile, the focus seems to be on creating "digital ink" and "e-paper." As Powers writes on page 62 of his report:

Paper is all around us, quietly doing the same work it's been doing for centuries. Indeed, what's most remarkable about the quest for e-paper is the standard by which we measure its progress. Paper itself is the inescapable metaphor, the paradigm, the tantalizing goal. The new medium will be deemed a success if and when it is no longer just an imitation of paper, but the real thing—when it becomes paper.
Perhaps the new medium will actually succeed when it is truly conceived of as new and not simply the best representation of the old medium. Perhaps when someone dreams and designs an object that focuses our attention like paper, enhances our need to engage in three-dimensions like a book, and delivers the functional promise of digital interactivity—perhaps then books will become kindling.

1 comment:

porpentine11 said...

You should also note that the Kindle holds just a little more than 200 titles. What kind of a library is that? I would need between 10 and 20 to hold my library. That's a cost of between $4,000 and $8,000. The devise seems to assume that books are disposable.