Digital Reading: Can Technology Give Us A Tangible Experience in E-Reading?


By Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND | @bklynanne

While the push to digitize, convert and distribute e-books goes on in the publishing industry, there’s a smaller but influential network of researchers and technologists trying to develop smart, interactive – but still touchable, tangible – books made mostly out of paper.
This is a leap from commercial offerings of the 1990s, mostly for children, of astronomy books with embedded, light-up galaxies, talking storybooks, and glow-in-the-dark Halloween books. The new generation’s books move and respond to user
nput; they are truly interactive.

Looking for a New Blend of Technology and the Book Arts

Their inventors live equally in academia – such as in the High-Low Technology Group within MIT’s Media Lab, and the Computational Design Lab at Carnegie-Mellon University – and outside of it, in various tech industries as well as peripheral publishing areas. Riding the strong current of the Maker movement (the latest generation’s mash-up of technology with a cultural return to crafting and DIY), these book investigators want to hold on to the sentimental comfort and the form of the book while infusing it with high-tech abilities.

First, the form: Tangible computing (working to interface real objects with computers) is partly an effort to snatch from extinction a crucial part of users’ experience – receiving more sensory feedback– as our activities of life transform into pure digital. For example, screen reading, whether on a computer screen or an e-ink reader, lacks the feel, smell and sound of a paper book.

Tangible results were on display at the recent ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) Creativity & Cognition conference in Atlanta, and at the workshop, the Future of the Book. A deep nostalgia for bound books made of paper infuses many of these projects, but with a twist.

There are pop-up books that respond to light, sound, or touch. Some delve into the meaning of the book form, as in the project Novel Architecture, offering a concrete take on the idea of “immersive” reading. Others reveal pages that fold, shimmer, and interact with the reader. Read more

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