"Possible or Probable?": An Imagined Future of the Book
by Kathleen Fitzpatrick — Modern Language Association
December 02, 2009 – 16:27
"Possible ou Probable?," a video produced by the French publishing group Editis, presents a fascinating set of possible futures for reading devices. (Don’t worry if you don’t speak French; the substance is pretty clear even without following the dialogue. There’s an English-subtitled version as well, which is also of slightly better image quality, though there’s about 45 seconds of blankness on the front end of the video.)
There are any number of potential avenues for discussion in this video, but there are a few things I’d like to point out about it, ideas that make this possible/probable future far more exciting to me than the "e-book" present of Kindles and Nooks. Yes, color; yes, form factor; yes, text-to-speech; yes, video — but so much more.
First, though the overriding metaphor of this device is still heavily based on the codex form — see the "pageturns" as our heroine opens her "book" — this device provides several key options, including trading the verso/recto form of the book-like device for a more tablet-like vertical orientation. This simple shift has the potential to affect the ways in which we interact with both the device and with the texts we read on it.
Second, though the device is initially presented as a device for reading, a thinner, sexier, souped-up version of the Kindle, we discover as the video goes on, that it’s also, at least potentially, a device for writing, as our author approves the copy edits to his manuscript and sends them back to his publisher.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a networked device, not just in its ability to download books to be read, but also in its ability to communicate with other devices — to send text as well as receive…
All of this promises less a new device on which we can imagine that we might read books than a radical new system by which we can imagine we might communicate, in which texts move rapidly from author to bookstore to reader, in which readers might have the ability to respond to authors, and to discuss with one another.