Aristotle lived during the era when the written word displaced the oral
tradition, becoming the first to explain that how we communicate alters what we
communicate. That's for sure. It's still early in the process of a digital
rhetoric replacing the more traditionally written word. It's already an open
question whether constant email and multitasking leaves us overloaded humans
with the capability to handle longer-form writing.
How we communicate alters what we communicate. I heard not long ago that the invention of page numbers did not occur until nearly 40 years after the creation of the book. Today we can not imagine a book or other forms of the printed word not having something as obvious as page numbers. So why should we imagine that books will remain the same with a communication medium like the Internet and all it offers?
The question I think many of us grapple with is what we (or the next generation) will communicate given how the Internet changes communication. In yet another passage, Crovitz notes:
The book introduced a disciplined way of thinking about topics, organized
around contents pages, indexing, citation and bibliography. These are at the
root of Web structure as well. One theme for the next annual Conference on the
Book is that the digital experience could simply be an evolution: "The
information architecture of the book, embodying as it does thousands of years'
experience with recorded knowledge, provides a solid grounding for every
adventure we might take in the new world of digital media.
Crovitz ends his piece on a note of hope that technology may return us to the written word in a new way, breathing new life into words and their meaning.
Not long after Crovitz's piece, there was a rebuttal article by Jason Epstein that also appeared in the WSJ. In the rebuttal, Epstein paints a different view, suggesting that print-on-demand will be the more likely path of digital books rather than reading on a screen. That is quite possibly true while we continue to digitize content and think about stories in a linear way. Perhaps that is why it took 40 years to come up with page numbers -- because we needed a generation or two to grow up with a new technology in order to view it differently. Perhaps the great novel of the next generation will be a video game -- interactive and complex storylines that play out some of the universal stories and themes that underlie much of the traditional literature base. I know, I know, it sounds like heresy -- but maybe in 40 years there will be a development in video game storytelling where people will wonder why we told stories or passed on knowledge in any other way. It will be as obvious to them as page numbers are to us, or so it will seem.
Anyway, I thought the two articles were both interesting reads and provided some thoughts to chew on. Good strategic thinking and innovation both require thinking about future possibilities. These two pieces could serve as a good catalyst for such a discussion.