Unlecture 6 – Books vs. E-Books

Probably the most interesting question discussed in this weeks unlecture was “do you think the digitalisation of literary texts and the use of the E-reader will eventually replace the physical book completely? will the physical book become redundant”. I found this part of the lecture particularly interesting because I am rather sceptical about the future of digital publishing. While mediums like the e-reader largely simulate the physical manifestation of a published work, things like hypertext narrative make me wonder if this kind of story telling is in fact our future. It would be naive of me to say that hypertext or “choose your own narrative” kind of storytelling will never work, as i’m sure that they will become refined and embraced in the not so distant future. I am sceptical because from what I have encountered so far, alternatives to traditional fixed narratives are generally cluttered and confusing. The exception to the rule that I encounter more often than not is choice based video games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but this point is irrelevant when discussing the future of books.

It is my opinion, like a some of the lecturers, that while e-books may become more predominant than tangible books, the physical book maintains a nostalgic and almost romantic aesthetic, much like vinyl records in contrast to CD’s. The book in itself has a lot of cultural baggage attached. For example, we build large exquisite libraries to house these artefacts, and the book since its conception has commonly been seen as a symbol of knowledge and learning. This glorification of the book will not disappear, it may fade but it will never be lost, at least not for the next century.

I agree with adrian, however, when he said that while the physical book will retain its popularity for a very long time, it has outlived its practicality; for example, in regard to text books, data logs and so forth. Digital publishing has revolutionised the way we can store and share knowledge. Traditional literature will always preference the physical book however, because, as the name suggests, the format itself is traditional.

I hope, while digitised publications serve a convenient and practical purpose, that the publishers continue to distribute physical copies of their publications. If only so that I can look at and touch them. There is something deeply satisfying about a full bookshelf…

pictured: my bookshelf

The Future of Narrative (Wk.6 Readings)

This weeks reading focused on narrative and the way in which hypertext can potentially (and on some level already has) influence digital stories. Prior to these readings, I had not read nor encountered any kind of hypertext narrative. The principle is compelling, in that the idea is the story is different with each reading. However, I remained sceptical on whether this new found flexibility would be a positive or detrimental influence on the reading experience. An example that popped up in both readings was the hypertext narrative “afternoon, a story”. As this was the case, I decided to try my hand at what this new format could offer.

What I found was that, almost straight away, the story was messy, convoluted, and made little sense in terms of structure and subject. For example, simlpy by pressing the return key, the reader is led down a linear telling of the story, at least thats what was said in the instruction. Despite this however, after pressing enter little more than 3 times, It was indicated that i was at chapter XIV. Clearly this is not a linear story, and while that may be the implied function of the hypertext story, I was more inclined to feel like the story was broken in some way. Despite this, I chose to read on, this time taking advantage of the hypertext in the actual body of text. This was interesting, as the text that followed was in some way related to the word I clicked on. For example, at one point the text was describing a woman’s body, being the immature guy that I am, I clicked on the word breast. The following page then described a couple having sex, little suprise there. In the end, though, I found the story more confusing than interesting and ultimately gave up after a short amount of time. Granted, the story was developed in the late 80’s, predating the internet itself. However, given that the principle is essentially the same I find little attraction in this kind of narrative.

Read “Afternoon, A Story” here

The reading did get me thinking on ways in which the principle of this kind of networked storytelling has been adapted today. One such incarnation that came to mind was the way in which certain video games confront you with multiple choices in certain situations that effect the narrative. One such video game developer that employs this feature regularly is Bethesda Games, which produced best selling titles including Bioshock, Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls series. For example, in Mass Effect, any conversation there is a conversation wheel offering different conversation options. The choices you make effect a non player characters response, the way other characters interact with you and, on rare occasions, the way the plot unfolds.

Mass Effect conversation wheel

I do think that hypertext narratives have great potential. The idea that readers, as well as the author, can contribute and expand the story to areas previously unthought of. From what I have encountered so far however, there is a very long way to go.