Beware the technophiles

As someone who often bemoans technophobia, I feel the obligation to point out its opposite when it makes an appearance. I have read the unintentionally funny named article in TechCrunch “Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should be an App, Not an iBook”. Here the author gushes about the iPad, repeats the idea that it changes everything, and prompts authors to abandon books in favour of a more interactive proposition in the shape of an iPad app. In the most misguided part of the article, the author states:

“If you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to ‘publish’ your next book, you are completely missing the point. What do you think would have happened if George Orwell had the iPad? Do you think he would have written for print then copy and pasted his story into the iBookstore? If this didn’t work out well, do you think he would have complained that there aren’t any serious-readers anymore? No. He would have looked at the medium, then blown our minds.”

At the best of times, I hate these types of lazy arguments where someone takes a famous author and ascribes modern sensibilities and intentions to their actions. If George Orwell had been writing today, he would have been a different author, period. If I had wings, I would not have to pay bus fares. So please do not make an argument based on what someone would or would not do with the iPad, spare us the spectacle of such inane thoughts. The author continues:

“It’s not a problem that the experience of reading a book ‘cover to cover’ on an iPad isn’t that great as long as there are better ways to communicate on the device. On the iPad there are. What’s challenging for authors at this point is the iPad enables so many different types of expression that it’s literally overwhelming. Once you start thinking of your book as an app you run into all kinds of bizarre questions. Like, do I need to have all of my book accessible at any given time? Why not make it like a game so that in order to get to the next ‘chapter’ you need to pass a test? Does the content of the book even need to be created entirely by me? Can I leave some parts of it open to edit by those who buy it and read it? Do I need to charge $9.99, or can I charge $99.99? Start thinking about how each and everyone one of the iPad’s features can be a tool for an author to more lucidly express whatever it is they want to express and you’ll see that reading isn’t ‘dead’, it’s just getting more sophisticated.”

The author here is trying to be open-minded and innovative, but falls into the gadget fallacy. We still need books because not everyone can afford an iPad. In fact, only a small minority of people can afford one, while others can only go to a library and borrow a book easily. It is clear that the author does not love reading, and if he did, he would recognise that the experience is entirely different.

Do not get me wrong, I believe strongly that interactive media has artistic potential. There are some beautiful and immersive games out there with intricate stories, enough to warrant games to be considered a new art form. However, one must not confuse mediums. A book is a book, and it is not the same as a film. I know this sounds preposterously basic, but people keep missing this very basic fact. The Lord of the Rings is a very different experience as a book, a game or a film. It works on all three levels, but do not try to believe that it is the same. The core story is the same, the methods for re-telling them are very different.

There is a certain conceit in the assumption by young American elites that everyone thinks the same everywhere. Please, do not paint us all with your Apple fanboy brush.