Monday, November 7, 2011

What If ....

Steve Jobs had an ability to tap into what his customers wanted when it came to producing computer products. Some would actually say that he was a genius at not only tapping into this "Knowledge" but also being able to tell his customer what they "needed" even before the customer could dream it up themselves. That is a gift that very few people possess, yet it is a trait that leads to survival in a competivtive field. Looking at the latest Apple "got to have" products, the iPad, there are many what ifs that come to mind when thinking about future applications of this little but mighty tool.

Going back a decade or so, there was chatter that the printed book would be on the way out the door. It would come as no surprise that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both envisioned a world where computers would do everything, including replacing books. In this case, Jobs was more of a visionary than Gates. Industry leaders cointed the term "ebook" but it doesn't seem to fit the description of the product since it is not truly a book. It should be named for what it is: digital text. Which makes Jobs seem even more of genius for recoginzing that his product was not a book but a digital pad. Anyone who is familiar with the device knows that it not only downloads digital text of boos, it's also a tool for email, composing text, and surfing the web. Allaccessible by the touch of a fingertip. Using the iPad is also a Apps paradise. Everything one could ever want is available via an App. How wonderfully simple. So now what?

The iPad as a reader has several advantages that the traditional book does not. Easier to read with brighter text, vivid picture color, no "pages" torn out and the list can go on. Keeping this in mind, the question begs to be asked: what next? If reading the classic Pride and Prejudice, will music begin to play when Mr. Darcy first asks Elizabeth to dance? Will youngsters be able to smell strawberries during Story time when The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear is read to them ? For book discussion groups, will the iPad be able to facilitate a virtual book discussion where text is highlighted and comments from other readers about the book be heard, shared and responded to in a mere moments, as if everyone were on a telephone conference? Will books written in Italian, for example, be translated to English via an App that translates almost in an instant? If any of these ideas are in the works, it wouldn't be surprising. Apple, and Steve Jobs specifically, have been known to tweak technology to add a little more oomph and wow to everyday routines. It stands to reason that reading will also be "tweaked" in ways yet to be imagined.

All the possibilities that technology offers are wonderful and exciting. As a curious society driven on innovations, it would be silly not to think about what can happen next. However, it is a bit of a scary proposition that technology may take away a person's ability to enhance their imagination. The power of the written word may be at stake here and what will be left is the power of imagery, with vivid color and 3D capability which takes one to another reality. With technology trying to do one more next "best" thing, it would seem that Deep Space Nine's Holodeck might not be a thing of fiction. Perhaps, reading experiences could be replaced with this type of technology. Frankly, it will be much better if Holodeck remain fiction. If books will eventually become digital text, let's hope that this is not beginning of the end of the power and beauty of the written word.
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