Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 blog is often thought-provoking, mostly about ebooks. He has been a great fan of the Kindle, but today he fires a salvo in the direction of the existing generation of ebook readers with the Kindle bang in the centre of target:

The problem with these devices is that they encourage quick print-to-e content conversion and nothing more. In fact, they even discourage some of the simplest ways of enhancing print-to-e conversions. Embedded links are a great example. If you’re a Kindle owner how often do you click on those links? More specifically, how often do you groan as you click on those links, knowing that the browsing experience ahead is painful at best? The irony is that although the Kindle was the first to include wireless functionality, that feature is really only good for one thing: buying content from Amazon. Every other time I’ve used the “experimental” browser I’ve been disappointed. That’s because, at its heart, the Kindle is a reader and it doesn’t encourage any other use. How the Kindle Prevents eContent from Evolving

Well put. It is lame to have live links in a digital text if the system does not support good browsing. Part of the trouble with much of the current design and thought about ebooks, is that too often publishers and technologists assume that the only thing that matters with a book is the reading of it (perhaps abetted by the ‘buying’ of it). The Kindle has been designed and the Amazon digital e-commerce system has been built as though the only thing that really matters with books is the reading of them. One after the other. Books are much more multi-functional than the buying/reading/moving on, modulus would suggest. And digital books need to be more than digital representations of the printed object (though they need to be that at least).

Where does this take us? Arguably books, magazines and newspapers in their digital form need to be at least as good as print books. At least as useful as print books. But also much more open and much more inter-related. They need to be on the web and of the web, because that is where we increasingly do our reading. And we don’t only read books and newspapers. Our digital reading experience is inevitably becoming more various, more public, more connected and more horizontal (embracing other media types as well as all forms of print media). Taking digital books as seriously as they need to be taken, is a matter of enabling them to be open to all forms of cognitive action (reading, referring, learning, analysing, interpreting, sharing, comparing, etc) but also making them inherently more open (to search, to citation, to annotation, to quotation…). My thoughts were brought in this direction by a fascinating blog by the Philosopher of Information Luciano Floridi. Floridi writes about the ways in which ICT (digital technologies) are revolutionising health care and medicine:

Behind the success of ICT-based medicine and well-being lie two phenomena and two trends.

The first phenomenon may be labelled “the transparent body”. By measuring, monitoring and managing our bodies ever more deeply, accurately and non-invasively, ICT have made us more easily explorable, have increased the scope of possible interactions from without and from within our bodies (e.g. nanotechnology), and made the boundaries between body and environment increasingly porous (e.g. fMRI). We were black boxes, we are quickly becoming white boxes through which anyone can see.

The second phenomenon is that of “the shared body”. “My” body can now be easily seen as a “type” of body, thus easing the shift from “my health conditions” to “health conditions I share with others”. And it is more and more natural to consider oneself not only the source of information (what I tell the doctor) or the owner of information about oneself (my Google health profile), but also a channel to transfer DNA information and corresponding biological features between past and future generations (see 23andme). Arsenic and e-Health

Books as bodies? Or bodies as books? The metaphor can work in both directions. As our books, newspapers and magazines become digital they should become transparent. Digital editions will be shared, even integrated in other contexts, and as publishers and editors we need to understand and extrapolate the way in which the information they contain can flourish in other information systems. This is not a matter of abandoning the old formats but of reinvigorating them in a new technology matrix in which they become more porous. A Kindle which traps books in its hermetically sealed account is missing the main chance. A Google Books which abandons all pictures and illustrations is stunting the digital possibilities of the books it fillets. And newspaper owners or author’s agents who think that they can close those digital systems down are pointing us in the wrong direction.