The future of books… scratch that. The future of reading

16 04 2010

Winnie the Pooh on the Ipad

While most of us focused on the implications of initiatives like Google Books, we may have overlooked the elephant in the room. The story is not about the future of books but rather how people will consume written content – if at all! Whether you read your book on your Kindle, Ipad or whatever, you are still consuming knowledge the same way your ancestor did: reading one line at the time with 90%+ of your brain activity dedicated to this activity.

Audiobooks were the first real challenge to this very principle. You can consume knowledge while driving your car, moping your floor, etc. While quite prevalent in the American culture, audiobooks did not change the book industry – rather it created a new revenue stream. The matter of the fact is that knowledge consumption remained untouched: still a one-way street.

This is why Paul Carr’s recent review of the IPad in TechCrunch got my attention. Paul makes the interesting argument that the Ipad will not only kill the Kindle but it will also kill “the experience of reading for pleasure.” Why?

“The iPad is emphatically not a serious readers’ device: the only people who would genuinely consider it a Kindle killer are those for whom the idea of reading for pleasure died years ago; if it was ever alive. The people who will spout bullshit like “I read on screen all day” when what they really mean is “I read the first three paragraphs of the New York Times article I saw linked on Twitter before retweeting it; and then I repeat that process for the next eight hours while pretending to work.” That’s reading in the way that rubbing against women on the subway is sex.”

His point is that our experience of reading has changed with our attention span. Reading is no longer as entertaining as it used to be; especially on a platform on with awesome games just one click away. The immediate consequence is that you will see more and more video and interactive content integrated in your reading experience. Reading will then become more and more like surfing the Web – a two-way street knowledge consumption. Read the rest of this entry »

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Iraq, Afghanistan and the re-engineering of human beings

10 01 2010

Exoskeleton from Raytheon (Sarcos Lab) - found on singularityhub.com

It only took a TED video from Aimee Mullins (link here) to start connecting some dots I had completely overlooked till then. Born with missing fibula bones, Aimee had both her legs amputated below the knee when she was just a child. Using specially designed prosthetic legs, she nevertheless competed in the NCAA Division I 100m dash and long jump against able-bodied athletes. She never considered herself as disabled but she rather saw in her missing leg an opportunity to be creative about her body. She now has twelves pair of legs, which allows her to change her height up to 6 inches. In the video, she mentioned how one of her friends became jealous of her ability of changing height at her will and even call it “unfair.” As Aimee puts it, recent innovations in biomechanics and even genetic engineering spark a whole new debate on how “disabled” may open the door to “super-abled.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have not only killed more than 5,000 americans; but they are also responsible for hundreds of thousands of wounded veterans. Amputation are unfortunately quite common which leads to believe that groundbreaking innovations are to be expected in prosthetics thanks to significant public funding. This reminds me of three years ago when I saw a person walking on bionic legs around MIT campus. Hugh Herr‘s work at the MIT Media Lab is indeed quite amazing. As an amputee himself, he developed electronically activated ankles and systems that allow him to walk without constraints. The company IWalk has already made such products a commercial reality.

Read the rest of this entry »