Regularly scheduled programming has recommenced. We are having some technical difficulties, however, and random pictures of cute babies may accidentally be spliced into future posts.
So... the iPad is here. I won't even make name jokes. But its introduction has brought out more of a certain kind of comment that makes me cringe a little. Maybe you've heard it, or something similar...
"I can't wait! Ebooks will make everything more interactive, and there will be links and music and video in my books! It's so supercool that books will be evolving into something even better! Interactive, oh yeah!"
It's not that I'm down on ebooks. They're not really my thing, but if it suits other people, well, that's great. They have my blessings. And it's not even that I'm against books with "interactive" elements. I could see this as a viable and interesting genre. I think of the way graphic novels have blossomed in the last couple decades, and I can see a similar niche for the interative book.
What troubles me is this idea of replacement I hear bandied about... the idea that these interactive books will somehow be superior to the ones we have now, and will thus soon replace them (and writers, I guess, will have to become writers/programmers/video editors). And what will set these new and improved books apart, of course, is this idea of interactivity.
And oh does this vex me a little. The word "interactivity", I think, is misleading, at least in one sense. Yes, the book might be more interactive in a physical sense. A link to click on, a button to push... but are we really getting excited about pushing a button in this day and age? The basic fact is that the more "interactive" a text becomes in this sense the less interactive it actually becomes for the reader.
The true value of literature, I think, is that the reader is the co-creator of the story, for it lives only in a fusion of the writer's words and the reader's imaginative perception. It is interactive on a deeply human level. The written word requires this fusion to make itself real. Music, film, theatre... these exist outside the audience. They are what they are. Yes, there will be slight variances in perception from person to person that will shape these experiences. But for a story... it doesn't really exist until translated within the reader's mind, shaped by each individual's unique consciousness.
Endless studies have shown the difference in brain activity between watching television and reading. The first is passive, the second active... and so when we talk about "interactive" books we are actually talking about books that are being forced into an ever greater passivity, a passivity that is disguised by the "interactivity" of pushing a button or clicking on a link. For every element of interactivity we add, we interrupt what John Gardner called the fictive dream, that seamless sense of the story made real within the mind, the words becoming translucent as the brain creates the story. Interactivity breaks that imaginative fusion between word and thought. The mind resettles itself as observer rather than participant.
Would interactive books draw non-readers in? Perhaps. But if what they wanted was alternate media experiences, wouldn't they just search those out? And would they be drawn to the text or the interactive experiences? And would it be necessary to keep increasing such passive interactivity in order to keep these "readers" coming back? Why keep the text at all?
Again, I'm not entirely against the concept. I believe there's a genre here waiting to happen, a mixed media form that can make use of both forms of interaction. But this idea of evolution or replacement bothers me, for it seems a devolution in many ways.
Anyone else cringing at this idea?