Okay, I’m finally to the point where I’m actually thinking about getting a cell phone. I had intended to pick up a Droid phone right after Christmas, but after doing more research, I’m changing my plan. I may have to wait a little longer.
Here’s what I want, a solo gadget that will do the following:
- Let me call people.
- Let me do the whole social-networking thing, including e-mail.
- Let me research in real-time.
- Let me jot down notes, wiki-wiki.
- Let me retrieve notes even faster.
- Let me compose and edit. I’ll bend on formatting; I don’t really need to build Tables of Contents while I’m out and about.
- Let me read books.
- Let me listen to music and other audio stuff.
- Let me take reasonable (web-quality) snapshots.
- Let me record reasonable (podcast-quality) audio.
- Work everywhere, when I want it.
- Have an amazing battery life.
- Connect to my home and car systems in a heartbeat, no questions asked.
- Not be a pain in the ass to use.
- Not lock me in place. I want hacks.
- Waterproof, because what’s a book reader that you can’t take in the kitchen or bathtub?
- Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
- Doesn’t actually go into my brain.
Well? Why not?
I’m going to pretend this thing already exists, and that a lot of people are as excited about it as I am. I’m sure, when it does exist, a lot of people will be excited. Again. Why not?
So. Here’s the question. What do I want to write for the damned thing?
Look me in the eye and tell me that e-books aren’t lame, that they’re an Exciting New Idea.
See? You can’t do it. IT’S THE SAME THING AS A BOOK. Only not as good. You know what’s so great about books? They are, and always have been, a status item. It takes a ton more skill to read and understand a book than it does to watch a show or a movie (although, admittedly, it takes a great deal of skill to really appreciate either). I quit watching live TV years ago (not because I was above it, but because I got sucked in, hours and hours later), and whenever I tell people that, they’re always a little impressed. “I read books,” I say, and I’m part of an imaginary elite. Now, among people who read books (and around the people who love them), we know that it’s more of an addiction than it is something that marks us as superior, but most people don’t know that.
You know what else most people don’t know? That they can do more than read news, talk to people they already know, or go shopping on the Internet.
I can’t tell you how aghast I am when I tell people about BoingBoing and they say, “What?”
No, really. Most people. In real life. Most people haven’t grasped the medium. They know how to do things on the Internet, but they don’t have the Internet in their brains, as it were. I mean, blank looks when I run their shitty political e-mails through Snopes and tell them that not only were they wrong, but they were wrong six years ago, from a different country. IMDB? What’s that? Look, honey, I just use Outlook.
There were a few experiments trying to combine fiction with the Internet, but all it was was some novels with hyperlinks.
Lame. I’d rather read a paper novel, with notes in the margins, like House of Leaves.
Despite the fact that there have been some interesting Alternate Reality Games, but you know, they haven’t taken off. They’re just too damned hard and too damned navel-gazing for most people. Gene Wolfe and his labyrinthine writings are the exception, not the rule, for fiction; no doubt the same extends to the Internet.
Story blogs aren’t doing any better than magazines.
I don’t think the PC is inherently a good idea, when it comes to fiction. There’s no convenience and no prestige. But book readers, that’s something. I didn’t think much of them when they first came out, but listening to other people talk about theirs, it’s there, both the convenience and the prestige.
But e-books are still lame.
Here are two possibilities I’m considering:
First, add value to e-books. Package a professional audio book with the file that can run in concert with the print version – so you can read it in the bathtub or listen to it in the car, without losing your place or having to spend any brain cells on finding your place. Illuminate the text – in fact, use illustrations to communicate the text, if you like. Manga on your oversized cell phone? Hell, yes. Don’t use links – you know that thing the iPhone can do, zooming in on things? Do that, instead – make your books like the 1001 Arabian Nights, with stories within stories, if you like.
Second, don’t do e-books. Do games. Go back to the Infocom games and take the best ideas from there, then plug them into current computer games – there are alternate outcomes, but to win the game, you have to push toward the best outcome, like solving the mystery or consummating the romance, or getting out of the serial killer’s house alive. Don’t make the reader type, though. Make them move things around on the screen, with illustrations (see the first possibility). I’m struggling with how to explain this, because a pick-a-path book is not what I’m aiming for. A game in which you’re playing the detective, and have to investigate a crime scene, and you can’t leave that “area” until you have what you need (although you don’t know what to do with it). With narration.
I tried to find a book packager that does that kind of thing. Sounds like the perfect job for a book packager, connecting programmers with actors, writers, and artists.