To appreciate writing in four dimensions, look at Mike Matas explain in crisp sentences the new generation of digital book that he has developed with his team at Push Pop Press: Our Choice. Written by Al Gore, the book is a follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, but this time Gore makes his case in an interactive, multimedia e-book. The content bends and flexes, moves and breathes. For the first time, Gore says, he is able to bring together deep research with images and sounds to prove his thesis. Details infuse every key point, down to the bars on bar graphs designed into a natural landscape.
The implications for readers are enormous; we must train ourselves so we do not let the gloss dazzle away our skepticism -not of Gore, I support his concerns on the environment – but of any content presented in such a slick fashion. People believe what they see on television, after all, even if it is not true.
The implications for writers are also enormous: crafting a story or an argument must be done with words and with design and with video and music and graphs and choices. What writers once conveyed using only words to get from their minds to readers’ imaginations, they will be expected to do to a standard of media-rich layers that can be touched and pinched and turned: “Using Push Pop Press authors can weave together text, images, audio, video and interactive graphics into immersive multi-touch interactive books, without dealing with the complexities and costs normally involved in software development. ”
Writers have always had to anticipate what Mortimer J. Adler explained in 1940 in How to Read a Book, “The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading.” Adler tells his readers, “If you have the habit of asking a book questions as you read, you are a better reader than if you do not..Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author…But understanding is a two-way operation, the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher has to say.” The standard for reading and writing is becoming an immediate two-way conversation.
And while the advice writing teachers have always given – show, don’t tell – now takes on a literal meaning as well as a literary one, a foundation of simple and crisp will always under-gird the glitz. Play Matas’s clip on TED, but do it by choosing a language other than English. Note the correlation between Matas’s sentences and the translations: he explains an amazing complex product with direct, well chosen words that are relatively idiom-free, and immensely clear. As writers consider not only how to incorporate sights and sounds, I believe they will also need to consider how what they write translates, since choice of language is one more dimension to consider in new digital books.