I’ve been thinking about eBooks lately. It started with John Green’s article in School Library Journal: “The Future of Reading: Don’t Worry. It Might be Better than you Think.” As a librarian, I really like the donut analogy. Man I have some great crullers in my library. You should go and read the article because John Green is way smart and eloquent, and my summary will not in anyway capture it all. For the purposes of what I’m going to talk about here, the thing you need to know besides the crullers (oh go and read the article if you want to know), is ThisIsNotTom.com. Originally it was a site with complex riddles to solve. Then Green got involved and the riddles became keys to unlock the next part of a novella of his.

Okay, so now the iPad is here. iBook already exists. I hear an iBookstore is in the works. I thought the Kindle was interesting, the nook looked neat, but I love me some Apple products, so now I am suddenly and keenly interested in e-readers. Because the iPad integrates other applications that users want perhaps more than an e-reader (web access, music, etc.), this could be a real boost in the spread of e-reading.

There is a theory (I think it is Dr. Ruben Puetedura’s) about the use of technology in education that I believe also applies here. Basically tech can take one of four roles:

  1. Substitution: the computer substitutes for another technological tool, without a significant change in the tool’s function.
  2. Augmentation: the computer replaces another technological tool, with significant functionality increase.
  3. Modification: the computer allows for the redesign of significant portions of a task to be executed.
  4. Redefinition: the computer allows for the creation of new tasks, inconceivable without the computer.

None of these is any better than the other. They just are.

So an e-reader that just presents the text is substitution. This is, I think, what most people think of when they think of an eBook. Some people are like, “Ick, I want to hold the book.” Others are like, “Wow, shiny, new, and just think how many books I can carry with me on vacation.” And then most of us fall in between.

Augmentation would be like if you had an eBook of say Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph: you could hear the bands that Teresa plays when she DJs. Or during Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games your screen would show the seal of the capital, you’d hear the anthem, and see images of the fallen. That would be pretty neat. Or it could be distracting.

I would argue that ThisIsNotTom.com is modification. How you get to the text is the part that is significantly redesigned. But you are still getting to text and reading it. Here’s where I think some real growth could be fascinating. Choose Your Own Adventure online? Mysteries you actually have to solve (sort of like the 39 Clues, but more so). Audio mixed with video mixed with text mixed with images?

I’m even more flummoxed about what Redefinition will bring. Group reading and creating experiences of some sort seem likely as we are moving through and beyond web 2.0.

I’d be curious to hear what people think the advent of more advanced and integrated e-readers. Will it change the way we read and write? What are some examples of things that are already going on that I’m missing?

On iPads and eBooks
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