A Library Of Books, Nary A Shelf In Sight

by | Apr 16, 2011

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” -Muriel Rukeyser

Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly is the author or What Technology Wants, and several other books. To my knowledge he doesn’t call himself a futurist, but he is one, and one of the best.

Writing on his blog, he images new futures for books that are interesting to consider. Let’s look at a small slice of what Kelly sees on the horizon:

Today the paper pages of a book are disappearing. What is left in their place is the conceptual structure of a book — a bunch of text united by a theme into an experience that takes a while to complete.

…What books have always wanted was to be annotated, marked up, underlined, dog-eared, summarized, cross-referenced, hyperlinked, shared, and talked-to. Being digital allows them to do all that and more.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need any more distractions from the text. Yet, I hesitate to criticize this form that Kelly imagines because a more social book may, in fact, be a better experience of the work.

In a 1993 Paris Review interview with Ken Kesey, the great American novelist said, “The novel is a noble, classic form but it doesn’t have the juice it used to. If Shakespeare were alive today he’d be writing soap opera, daytime TV, or experimenting with video.”

At the time of the interview, digital books were only a rumor, but today they’re fast becoming commonplace. The question is will advances in technology help makes books even more compelling than they already are? Amazon and its competitors are certainly believers.

[UPDATE] According to Los Angeles Times, sales of e-books reached $90 million in February — more than tripling the number from a year earlier. Last summer, online retailer Amazon.com Inc. said sales of e-books for its Kindle reader had far eclipsed hardcover book sales, noting at the time that it had been selling e-books for only a little more over two years and had been selling paper books since 1995.