Some technologies can ruin the very thing they try to improve.
I happened across one of these recently. The conquest of e-readers, tablets, laptops, smartphones, and their ilk over the bound and printed book means that authors can do a lot more things in their e-books than traditional books permitted. They can embed images, video, expandable notes, links between chapters, interactive content, and other obvious things to enhance the text. And, less obviously, they could include sound.
Not merely sound such as, “Here’s a recording of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech to go along with this chapter on the civil rights movement.” Sound such as, “Here is a soundtrack for the book”. Author Nathan Bransford tipped me off to this in his recent blog post Sound effects for books?, which mentions a company, Booktrack, that offers this ability. On Booktrack, users can assemble an audio track from music and other sounds to accompany a text, either their own writing or one from Booktrack’s public domain library. The completed book and audio can then be published for all the world to read and hear.
My immediate reaction to the idea was, “Ugh, no.” However, since I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, I pointed my browser to Booktrack and explored a few of the texts. After ten minutes I was done, wholly convinced: audio accompaniment to a book is a horrible idea. Continue reading Noisy Books
The beast settled down in the cool dark sea between two far-flung continents. It sunk until its splayed limbs rested on the ocean floor, leaving only the highest elevations of its rocky shell to protrude above the waves. The ridges and whorls of the carapace formed strange, concentric rings and clusters of mountainous islands. Slowly, the beast unfurled its proboscis and pushed it into the seabed. It drilled deep until the rock grew soft and hot, then began to patiently suck the molten nectar within the earth.
Seabirds, venturing far over the waves, spied the new islands and winged thither. They made homes on the steep bony slopes overlooking inlet and channel, and fed on the fish that came to eat the plankton teeming in the shallows. Lichen appeared on the shell. An errant seed was deposited by the wind, and a clump of grass took root in a narrow crevice. Insects were borne to the strange land by wind and wave, and buzzed and scuttled across the islands contentedly. Mosses, grasses, shrubs and trees appeared as years passed. A lizard peeked out from beneath a rock. A frog croaked beside a pond on a summer night. Continue reading Leviathan
Ever wonder why we have seen so many specific predictions of the future fall flat over the last century? Flying cars … moon bases … interplanetary atomic rockets … robots to wash your dishes … where are they? Curiously, most of those predictions aren’t too far-fetched. Flying cars exist; they’re just not common yet. We have the technology to build a moon base, and atomic rockets wouldn’t be too challenging, either. The visions that we would have these things now were wrong because they considered only the technologies themselves, not their context within the social, economic, and political confusion of human society.
The lack of this context is one of the biggest troubles futurists face when trying to describe the future. It isn’t difficult to take stock of current technological trends in some area and extrapolate to create a decent prediction of what technology will be available in ten or twenty years. It becomes very difficult, however, to precisely forecast how that technology will blend with and affect our future society, because of the mind-boggling complexity involved.
So I’m going to try something different.
It’s impossible to analytically simulate the color and complexity of life in the future. It is possible to creatively come up with scenarios that describe this, by studying trends in technology, society, culture, economies, and such, then mashing all of those together with a hearty helping of imagination. Science fiction authors do this all the time. The problem, though, is that scenarios in science fiction tend to be isolated from one another, so we end up with a mishmash of possible but unrelated futures.
I intend to change this by painting a web of future scenarios. The past is static and linear; the future is most definitely not. Different futures continually branch out from one another, in ways probable and improbable, separated by the dynamic uncertainty of our universe. Within this chaos, there are threads that can be followed. If I follow enough of them, I will, over time, create a gallery of the future, showing what the world might be like in a variety of conditions. Continue reading Introducing Future Portraits