The story of THE FUTURE.

I was asked recently (as I seem to be asked whenever I complain about my current career or lack thereof) what I would do if the normal constraints of family, friends, finances and talent were eliminated.  Usually I go with some sort of writing, but in this particular instance, inspiration struck.  I would be a wandering storyteller.  I would wander from town to town, sharing stories and telling tales and generally amazing crowds with my talented tale-spinning and imposing persona.  I would be just like the minstrels of old, except without the lute.

It seems, however, that the MIT Media Lab has beat me to it.  They’ve recently created a new ‘Center for Future Storytelling‘ with the express purpose of “transforming storytelling into social experiences, creating expressive tools for the audience and enabling them to embellish and integrate stories into their lives, making tomorrow’s stories more interactive, creative, democratized, and improvisational”.  Hm.  Sounds strangely like the minstrels of old.

But before you get huffy about a supposed ‘tech’ school going old-fashioned, keep in mind that they plan a wide range of virtual tools to be integrated into this ‘modern’ storytelling.  Key features to be newly included are ‘synthetic’ characters (go robots!) and new imaging technologies, both of which are supposed to make stories more interactive and adaptable to audience response.  Of course, all this new stuff doesn’t add up to a real, live minstrel.  But one day it might, putting me right out of the job i never had.

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Book burning for all?

As I am a writer, and and avid reader (some people don’t suppose those things go together, but I’m not one of them) I’ve been more than a little hesitant about the Kindle. Mike has, of course, extolled the virtues of electronic paper multiple times. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, Wikipedia has an easy-to understand article that explains how it works. And the Kindle is supposed to be very flexible, very thought out, and about the same size and weight as a paperback. So especially for traveling, probably a good thing – store enough books for your whole trip in the size of something one book big. For me that’s a big issue, as I often take more books than clothes, especially on longer trips.

But I’m still not convinced. Yes, I read the reviews, and listened to all these tech guys and other avid readers extol the virtues and honestly address some of the hiccups. And I am genuinely impressed with the product. I may even buy one some day, even at the current high price. As I’ve said before, I’m sure it would be ideal for travel especially more travel. But still, something holds me back from totally confirming the advent of a new reading age. Is it my inner traditionalist coming out, the reactionary who knows the old ways were the best? Or is it something else?

It’s not that I haven’t done my share of electronic reading already – take a look at this post on Baen.  But that hasn’t made me a convert to only electronic reading by any means.  True, the Kindle won’t eventually hurt your eyes like a computer screen will.  And true, there are many functions that allow you to treat it as a normal book – bookmarking, notes making,, highlighting, all kinds of stuff.  And it might even be good that I wouldn’t be able to beat up a Kindle like I do a regular paperback, bending the pages and breaking bindings and covers.  But still, there’s something missing from an electronic device like that.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but I don’t think I could get into it in the same way.  I’m not sure I could allow the page to blur before my vision, forming only story, not words.  I’m not sure I could let my mind open up, and really inhabit the world of the characters.  Most certainly I couldn’t surround myself with the smell of the bindings’ glue and the ink on the pages.  Even though Amazon may one day also vend perfumes to mimic these smells, something would be missing.

And what of my library?  What of that little collection I’ve build up of physical objects that I can touch and see surrounding me?  What of the book spines I run my fingers over gently, knowing friends within?  It’s true, when e-book first got big, some predicted the end of fiction as we know it, and this is just another chapter in that book.  But really I can’t see Kindle as lighting a book-burning fire.  At least not yet.