Friday, April 10, 2009

A new form of book,The Vook

I've had an idea in my mind for the past few months, about how the future of writing will be a new form of multimedia art that will have to be established and judged on a new scale. This will include technology we know about today, such as hyperlinking and podcasting and video and images. But I suspect it also will incorporate capabilities that haven't even been invented yet, too.

One group that already gets this is the Electronic Literature Organization. There are a variety of other academics and professionals that see the light.

But I haven't found any mainstream business application attempted until I ran across this piece in the New York Times about a Vook. A Vook is essentially a book with video and other digital attachments woven into it.

The Vook company recently put a call out in the area I live, Portland, Ore., to encourage people to try it:

"Social media/Web Producer
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-04-07, 12:03PM PDT

Calling on Portland's creative class. Book junkies, social media mavens we're looking for you too.

This is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and build your own epic vision of a classic tale.

You may have already read about us in the Times on Sunday ( -- Vook weaves together text, videos, photography and social networking to create a brand new way to experience and interact with books.

We're looking for a handful of tech-savvy, local book lovers who can help us realize this vision. We want you to take your favorite classic book and "Vook" it.

Successful candidates will use our platform and should have:

* A love of fiction, non-fiction, long form and short stories.
* A passion for the web -- natch.
* Familiarity with Wordpress -- a must.
* A clear understanding of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and how to source copyright-free content on the Internet -- required.
* An arts, design, video production background -- bonus.
* Literary roots -- over the top.

This is a short-term, contract creative position. Work from home, work from Stumptown. Applicants should submit a resume and links to any on-line portfolio(s). Compensation to be on a completed, per-"Vook" basis."

This is somewhat of the Hundredth Monkey Metaphor, in which enough people start thinking about certain new things in new ways that similar technological eruptions happen in different unrelated places (or at least that's how I would describe the condition).

The distinct art forms now -- theater, dance, music, literature, architecture, poetry, opera, painting, sculpture, etc. -- can all blend together in the digital world, through holograms, computer generated imagery, animation, sound, video and words. That doesn't diminish the original form, just changes it. People who don't like change might as well move to a Pacific Island right now, because we've only begun to see the radical changes that we will experience in the next 50 years.

Art, though, is a product of its time. The context, the innovation, the foresight, that is all part of what makes art so interesting and, in some cases, timeless. Could you imagine some nation today deciding to create the Sphinx? Would anyone stop to look at a Jackson Pollock-styled painting hung in a gallery this month? If "Citizen Kane" was released this week as a modern movie, would anyone consider it great? Would anyone even go? It's ridiculous to take these art innovations out of their time, and it's naive to think that every great art form already exists.

Video games to me are the best current example. Two decades ago, it would have been laughable to suggest that the video game could become an art form. Today, I think it's ridiculous not to consider the video game edging toward that type of credibility. In many ways, the video game has gobbled up other art forms, such as photography, cinema and music, and added the interactivity not technologically possible before to grow into a blended form that could surpass them all in terms of impact on society when hundreds of years have passed.

With the Kindle, and other portable and flexible and durable screens being released already, including ones that can be written on by hand (and translated into typed and searchable text), it's only a matter of time before the printed page will be replaced ... just like film in a camera passed its era of relevance. Will the written word ever disappear? I highly doubt it. It's still (and always will be) a powerful and extremely efficient way to communicate. But could the day come when plain old written words on their own are considered antiquated, like cuneiform?

One comment in this New York Times' Vook article that I thought missed the point was:

"Would we have classics like “The Great Gatsby” if F. Scott Fitzgerald was distracted by the need to give Gatsby a Twitter account?"

The fact is that we will never have another "Great Gatsby" or Sphinx or "Citizen Kane." We will have something else, that could very well be equally great in terms of quality, or even better, but only of this time period, under these conditions. We should appreciate that, instead of always lamenting how wonderful things used to be.

- Brett

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