[iDC] The Book to Come

Giles Lane giles at proboscis.org.uk
Wed Dec 19 17:20:19 UTC 2007

Dear Charlie et al,

Thanks for the invitation to comment on your post on 'the book to  
come' and also the thoughts you contributed to the 'Media dies more  
slowly than some would think' thread, especially the quote from  
Derrida. Exploring a variety of modes and means of communication has  
been a core part of my own and, by extension, Proboscis' work since at  
least 1994 - and the boundaries between print and digital publishing a  
fertile ground for playful experiments. In all our work we find that  
the most successful forms of engagement with other people are those  
that are flexible and that do not confine creation and sharing to  
singular modes or methods. I think the binary oppositions between  
print and digital are unhelpful most of the time, and the appearance,  
and discussion, of Amazon's Kindle seems like its 1998 all over again,  
when the death of print and the book was heralded with tiresome  

For me the interesting angle is about authorship - who chooses or is  
able to participate in the creation of culture, how they get to share  
their creations and what value systems they become part of. In the bad  
old days of analogue distribution it was not just technically  
difficult to break into publishing, filmmaking and other forms of  
media, but there was a stranglehold on the channels of distribution  
which effectively cut out most people from participating beyond their  
immediate circle of acquaintance. I believe that it is the many-to- 
many model of sharing enabled by network technologies that  
fundamentally underpins a paradigm shift in authorship, not what media  
are employed. In our recent work Proboscis has been pursuing a hybrid  
approach - creating media that can move between the digital and the  
tangible (e.g. the Diffusion Shareables) and building tools to enable  
others to make and share their own (the Diffusion Generator) - for us  
the 'book to come' is precisely these kinds of hybrids and the  
collective, collaborative nature their production and sharing engenders.

I'm not convinced by premises which suggest that our love of books and  
the physical are merely 'fetishistic' attachments, instead I would  
suggest that objects themselves are also imbued with kinds of  
information that are valuable in addition to the 'content' that they  
might contain - things which we learn through touch as well as sight.  
Digital technologies also offer other kinds of experiences beyond the  
'content', and forms of dexterity play a significant role there too.  
Desire is one of the most powerful motivations behind human action -  
creative people continue to find pleasure and meaning in skills  
involving not just intellectual stimulation but manual skills and  
other sensory perceptions. This is not nostalgia - it is about the  
nature of individual enquiry into what it means to communicate with  
others, how we express ourselves and our relation to the physical  
world. Humans are tactile creatures for whom touch is not just a  
'pleasure' but also a conveyor of knowledge and information.

One of the weaknesses of the so-called 'knowledge economy' is that it  
rarely, if ever, acknowledges a place for 'experiential' knowledge  
(such as the manual knowledge of people who fabricate things) in its  
calculations. The 'network effect' of digital technologies means that  
we no longer have to accept singular modes of communication (broadcast  
to the margins), but also it means that we are free to explore multi- 
modal forms to communicate different things in different ways and on  
different levels. These do not all have to be digital or interactive,  
in fact I would say that now more than ever the re-discovery of  
techniques and media from the analogue age enables us to use them in  
surprising ways because they no longer bear the brunt of being the  
only media of communication, as they once were. I think that the book  
to come will continue to be an adventure in tactile and sensory  
communication as much as in what it contains.

best wishes,

Giles Lane
a: 1st floor | 24 rosebery avenue | london | ec1r 4sx | uk
t: 020 7837 9344 | m: 07711 069 569 | skype: gileslane

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