How Technology Will Change The Way We Read And Write

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last week my husband forwarded me an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal ( on how e-books will change the way we read and write and it sparked a great deal of enthusiastic debate between us. The author of the article, Steven Johnson, basically had his ‘Aha’ moment when he bought, on sheer impulse, a copy of Zadie Smith’s book ‘On Beauty’ on his Kindle. His ideas about how technology can revolutionize not only the book publishing industry but the act of reading itself are, I think, intriguing as well as exciting.

There were three aspects of his article that immediately caught my attention:

The way that technology will transform the essentially solitary, linear act of reading into a community, interactive activity;

The possibilities that technology open up for the e-book-world from hypertextual, searchable books to global book groups;

The revolutionary way e-books will alter the way people buy books from pay per chapter options to the reemergence of ‘forgotten’ books that are now being rediscovered.

Imagine your home library transformed into a virtual, searchable repository of knowledge…

Imagine being able to drill down into the backstory of a book just by clicking on hypertext links embedded in the e-book (as a writer of historical fiction this opens up all manner of possibilities to help inform and deepen the reading experience for my books)…

Imagine being able to highlight a paragraph in the book you’re reading and make comments that will be accessible to both the author as well as the community of readers who are looking at the same e-book…

After reading this article, I was like, wow, the possibilities are endless…and when I look at my four year old boys I can’t help but wonder – what will the world of ideas and books be like for them in the future?

So what do you think about Steven Johnson’s take on the future of e-book technology? What do you imagine that future will be like? What excites you the most about the way technology can revolutionize both the way you read and/or the way you write?

5 thoughts on “How Technology Will Change The Way We Read And Write

  1. I own a Kindle 2, and the instant availability of books is one of the biggest advantages of it. No more schlepping to the store to find the latest book discussed on Colbert or waiting a few days to get the book from Amazon. If I’m watching TV or reading about a book on the Web, I can download it and start reading it in 60 seconds (if it’s available for the Kindle; there are still many books that are not).

    I can also personally testify to how it might be changing the publishing industry. In less than a month and a half, I’ve sold 2000 books on the Kindle, which may not be a lot for a published author, but for a indie author (the latest term for self-published), that’s not bad. I can’t think of any other way that my books could be ranked next to Clive Cussler’s.

    In the near future, some smart author may emulate Stephen King’s effort a few years back to write a serial novel and publish it on the Kindle. Say six segments for $1.99 each. Once an author achieves success with that kind of model, it may bring back the Charles Dickens era of serials. That would be a huge sea change for how many of us write novels. Instead of writing 10 or more revisions of a complete novel, we’d have to take on the scary prospect of writing by the seat of our pants and risk writing ourselves into corners we couldn’t get out of. But that kind of business model might be the only one that works in an ebook world.

  2. I think of e-books as being simply an alternate delivery system for the creative content that we write. The publishing industry has been slow to develop the potential of “soft” book delivery, but it’s finally coming along with the Kindle. From the writer’s point of view, there is an advantage in the fact that people can’t resell a “previously read” e-book. (Or not easily). So writers wouldn’t be losing those sales, as they do now with printed books.

  3. Boyd – I think the possibility of serials is very real and exciting! I also think Kathryn that the technology may mean more than just a new form of delivery – and that’s what’s great (and a little scary) about it. The ebook may stop some of the reselling but it also raises all sorts of global copyright issues as you can download from wherever you are regardless of the rights sold.

  4. Regarding e-books and serialized novels I think they have a very good future. There are a couple of caveats though.

    E-books will only take a serious market chunk when they are deliverable in a format that can be read while sitting in the bath tub or in the steam sauna at the gym without the risk of toasting your $300 Kindle (yes it may ruin your book, but you can still read a soggy book…and it only costs a few bucks).

    Serialized books can be, and are, lots of fun. The thing about them though, you have to have the book done before serializing it. It can be in draft, but the story has to be done or you will certainly paint yourself into a whole.

    I know that serialization works because even with my audio-only podcast serials about 10,000 listeners world wide have grabbed each of my works. That says a lot for being a nobody, with no marketing. Making money at it though, that’s a different story.

    So technology will make a difference in the short term. People will buy their devices (I am very fond of my Moto-Q PDA/Smartphone with MS-Word and a full keyboard).

    As for the long term future though I think things will remain mostly as they have been.

    Barring a major paradigm shift in the way the human race thinks, and with the knowledge that technology exists to totally destroy electronic devices in a split second via an Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb, I am pretty certain that physical paper media will be here for the remainder of the human race.

    To paraphrase King Solomon from long ago: Everthing that will be has already been. And everything that has happened will happen again.

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