“Dynamic, Interactive Systems of Behaviors”

Yesterday, Publishing Perspectives featured a report by Dennis Abrams from the Bologna-based children’s book fair. When an unnamed developer (hopefully one who was made aware that he was talking to a reporter) refers to the print-based exhibitors as “dinosaurs”, Abrams uses the remark as the launch pad for a brief defense of illustrated books for children.

I don’t make the argument that print is dead; it’s a silly debate. As for illustrated books, ink on paper is still a pretty good medium. But in defending the “dinosaur”, I think Abrams’ argument misses the larger opportunity in digital: widespread conversation.

On her blog, Inventing the Medium, Janet H. Murray describes the “four affordances” of digital:

  • procedural (composed of executable rules)
  • participatory (inviting human action and manipulation of the represented world)
  • encyclopedic (containing very high capacity of information in multiple media formats)
  • spatial (navigable as an information repository and/or a virtual place)

In a related post, an adaptation of a contribution to the UNESCO symposium on “The Book Tomorrow”, Murray adds:

The new digital medium also offers us an alternate mode of representation, which is not declaratory but procedural, the ability to represent what we want to share with one another not only as a fixed sequence of text pages (or moving images), but also as a dynamic, interactive system of behaviors.

It’s natural to want to defend (or decry) the existing order, and reporting from far-flung events like book fairs might be the least appealing assignment I can imagine.

But if we’re ever going to elevate our sights, it would help to start a conversation about how we can help readers “deepen (their) understanding of the world and of one another.” That’s what Murray wants, for children and adults alike.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.