A walk through The Waste Land

Daniel sent the link to this YouTube video, A walk through The Waste Land, that shows an iPad edition of The Waste Land developed by Touch Press. The version has the text, audio readings by various people, a video of a performance, the manuscripts, notes and photos. I was struck by how this extends to the iPad the experiments of the late 1980s and 1990s that exploded with the availability of HyperCard, Macromedia Director and CD-ROM. The most active publisher was Voyager that remediated books and documentaries to create interactive works like Poetry in Motion (Vimeo demo of CD) or the expanded book series, but all sorts of educational materials were also being created that never got published. As a parent I was especially aware of the availability of titles as I was buying them for my kids (who, frankly, ignored them.) Dr. Seuss ABC was one of the more effective remediations. Kids (and parents) could click on anything on the screen and entertaining animations would reinforce the alphabet.

What happened to all that activity? What happened to all those titles? To some extent they never went away, it is just that attention turned to the web as a means of delivery. The web changed the economics which then changed the design. CD-ROMs could be sold and people (like me) were willing to pay for professional titles. But, it was hard to sell access to web materials when there is so much free stuff out and an expectation of free access. Thus companies changed what they sold when adapting to the web. Web sites were built that were free and promoted the print books like Seussville. These offered supplementary activities and in some cases monetized eyeballs with advertising, but they did not give away free interactive book experiences. Now the iPad (or, to be accurate, the App Store) has brought back a viable economic model where people can buy interactive books.

With Apple’s latest announcement of iBooks textbooks and iBooks Author, the attention is back on interactive books. Apple is clearly trying to change the economics of textbooks and how they are consumed. They want schools to move to iPads and kids to get interactive textbooks from publishers and authors who use iBooks Author to remediate books. Whether Apple sews up the market or we get a more open model, there is a lot to be said for (and against) moving away from print for textbooks.

To get a sense of what the new interactive books might look like there is an interesting¬† demo in a Ted talk by Mike Matas: A next-generatioin digital book. He demos Al Gore Our Choice published by Push Pop Press. From the demo this looks like a book with a bunch of video and info-graphics tacked on. I don’t see a compelling reason for getting the interactive version of the book. In the case of the iPad “The Waste Land” they have used multimedia to thoroughly enhance the poem with readings and scholarship that could actually change your perception of the poem. In this case it seems like a multimedia supplement that just reinforces the content. The Ted talk ends with a hokey interactive where you blow into the iPad or iPhone to animate a graphic.

To be honest, I haven’t played with either one, just watched the demos. “Our Choice” could, as Al Gore says in his Guided Tour, use interactive infographics in ways that really let you understand the data differently. I also like the pinching and folding interaction they have pioneered for picking things up. The larger question is where are interactive books going? Will Apple convince schools and publishers to move to interactive textbooks? Will kids end up carrying around both heavy print texts and iPads or will the shift be complete at the expense of many texts? Personally I still buy print books of things I expect to want to consult over time even when there is an electronic version. Print books I only have to buy once (and then move in boxes forever). Electronic versions I have buy again and again as media like CD-ROMs go out of fashion, operating systems change, and viewing devices morph. Books are designed to last a lifetime, electronic media are obsolete before you finish walking through the wasteland.