Archived entries for Books

Words on Paper 2010

It’s clear that 2010 was the year eBooks really took off with the popularity of the Kindle and iPad. I experimented with digital reading myself, taking in one book entirety on my iPhone, but ultimately I plan to read my long-form titles via good old ink on paper. I’m trying to make the time to read more, and feel good that every week I can make it through my favorite magazine, The New Yorker. On top of that I managed to read a little over one book a month this year, not terrible but I’d like to increase that in 2011.

There was a time when my stack of reading material was entirely non-fiction, perhaps because I was in more of a student mode. These days I feel like I’m learning considerably more about myself and the world through fiction and thus the mix below has evened out.

2010 books, in the order I read them:

Anathem — Neal Stephenson
A Gesture Life — Chang-rae Lee
Downtown Owl — Chuck Klosterman
The Future of the Internet, And How to Stop It — Jonathan Zittrain
Summer Blonde — Adrian Tomine
How We Are Hungry — Dave Eggers
Nowhere Man — Aleksandar Hemon
Sketching User Experiences — Bill Buxton
Understanding Privacy —Daniel J. Solove
Kafka on the Shore — Haruki Murakami
What He’s Poised to Do — Ben Greenman
The Island of the Colorblind — Oliver Sacks
Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! — Douglas Coupland

Covers of the books I read in 2010

Future of the Book?

Today I was asked to generate some provocative statements and questions pertaining to eBooks and the future of reading; I thought I should share them here  as well. This is a very hot topic right now and one in which technologies and behaviors are changing quickly. I’m an interaction designer, and I’m excited by new ways of engaging with things, but my personal stance is also one of critique and skepticism. I’m always interested in teasing out what value has been gained or lost rather than instantly and wholeheartedly embracing technology-led change.

To that end, here were my provocations. Many could be interpreted as a negative statement about eBooks, but also reveal potential opportunities for design in this very young medium.

“What are the cornerstones of the reading experience that we want to preserve, no matter what the format?”

”Why should I buy an eBook when it has no (monetary) value as soon as I buy it?”

“What is the role of a local book store as a reseller of eBooks?”

“Can I get a download code for the eBook when I purchase a physical book, the way I can for MP3s when I buy a vinyl record?”

“As an author, how do I sign a reader’s eBook when they come to my reading at a bookstore?”

“When I’m done reading a great book I like to pass it along to a friend. Can I do that with an eBook?”

“I can’t open any of the documents that I created 10 years ago because I don’t have the programs anymore. Is this going to happen to my library as well?”

“My apartment would look really empty if I didn’t have bookshelves full of books.”

“I look at a screen all day, I read books to relax when I’m sick of fighting with technology.”

How free will the tablet be?

Next week Apple has a press event scheduled  and the rumor mill predicts that they’ll be launching a new product, most likely the long-fabled tablet computer. There is already plenty of speculation over what the new device might be like, but the aspect that I’m anxious to hear about is how free it is; free as in speech.

Apple has always designed closed ecosystems where you must use both their hardware and operating systems together. Without courageous and unsupported workarounds you can only run Mac OS X on your MacBook, and only use iTunes to manage the music on your iPod. On the iPhone they upped the ante, successfully controlling not only the underlying operating system and desktop component but positioning the App Store as a gatekeeper for every third party app. The iPhone is an amazing device that has changed the way I learn, communicate, and travel, but it is not very free.

In a book I’m currently reading, The Future of the Internet, and How to Stop It, Jonathan Zittrain provides a perspective on generatively in the history of computing and the internet. He is referring to the quality of a system that allows for unexpected uses to develop in an unimpeded manner, and highlights numerous examples of today’s products and services trending in the other direction. It leaves me feeling conflicted — I know firsthand as a designer that when you control all aspects of an ecosystem you have a better opportunity to provide a good user experience. Similar to the issues of privacy vs. tailored interactions I find myself acknowledging that this cohesive experience comes at a price.

Many products today go beyond restricting generatively and are actually tethered to their makers, able to phone home to tattle on their owners or install updates that restrict or remove features at the manufacturer’s whim. Examples include Tivo or the Amazon Kindle, which infuriated owners when books they had previously purchased were removed from their devices remotely.

Next week, I will be very interested to see how Apple continues their trend towards increased control. Of course I’m curious to see how big the screen is, and what kinds of gestures it will support, but I’ll be looking deeper too at what kind of relationship they are facilitating between the device and its owner. Will we be able to use it how we want? Will they support new and unexpected user innovation? How free will it be?