The Non-Linear Evolution of Print

This past Sunday, a 21-year old senior at NYU made me rethink the world of communication. His name is Cody Brown, the founder of NYU Local and kommons. He did this in an article on TechCrunch that peripherally talked about iPads and eBooks but that was really a rallying cry for authors intent on remaking the face of authoring. His most damning statements were his closing sentences:
“I’m 21, I can say with a lot of confidence that the ‘books’ that come to define my generation will be impossible to print. This is great. ”
With those simple words, and armed with an iPad as his weapon du jour, Cody and his cohort most likely WILL change the face of how we read.
As a 52-year old, Ivy-educated, entrepreneurial business owner, I am used to multitasking and absorbing sound bites and factoids to rapidly assemble content and solutions for clients. But, as part of a past generation schooled in linear reading habits, I am also one of the ‘rationalizers’ for the world of print. Sadly, I am running out of ‘rationale’ with the flood of new platforms being put in the hands of a generation educated in a non-linear, parallel-processing world.
Last week, I visited a client who is the president of a company that manufacturers high-end inkjet printing systems…a person whose livelihood is tied to paper-based communication. As he pulled out his iPad, he said thoughtfully “I think….this is a game-changer.” He proceeded to tell about his 20-year old son who recently published his first book — not through a traditional publishers,but through one of the growing cadre of self-publishing platforms available. He described how information was being freed in new ways and how he could see that his company’s future was going to be tied to an ability to create/supply applications that carried along devices as a potential output medium, not as the primary offering.
But that concept is but prologue to Cody Brown’s elegiac to books as we know them. Print apologists still defend the territory we call ‘books’ as unassailable. Cody describes them as outmoded. He, and a growing cohort of followers, see content as an ‘experience’ not a ‘read.’ They envision a title not necessarily as a linear progression, but as an immersive experience. The iPad provides an on-ramp to that vision. It will take time, but as more and more authors of all age-groups grasp his concept, content publishing as we know it will change.
Admittedly, as Cody points out, there will be literary techniques and there will be iPad techniques…or more generically, iPublishing techniques. in iPublishing, every word on a ‘page’ becomes a potential launchpad for non-linear exploration, learning or experience-building. A daunting concept today because we have not mastered that form of authoring yet. But give it time…
And that is the ultimate takeaway. In all the conversation over iPad, content owners…from publishers to corporate marketers, have a chance to reset the benchmark for how content is presented and promoted. Paper-based documents will likely not disappear in our business lifetimes, but their purpose, content, formats and production techniques will morph to accommodate changing preferences and requirements. And where there is change, there is opportunity.
I’m 52, and I can say with a lot of confidence that we are about to enter the next phase in the presentation of content to audiences. This is great.

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