Draft introduction to the Future of Text Book.
Dear Reader of the Distant Future
I am glad this book has found its way to you and I wonder with amazement through which means you ‘read’ it. Are you reading the paper version? Did the digital version manage to stay interactive in all this time, or are you ‘holding’ the metal version in your hand or did you have it scanned somehow?
Is there still a difference between analog and digital?
What’s been more upgraded since our time do you think, you or the devices?
However you ‘hold this text’, in your hands or in some sort of a display, what you hold are our sincere thoughts and dreams of the future of text.
(It’s hard to define what text is, but for this purpose I mean symbolic grammatical communication, as opposed to discreet symbol pictures, either on its own or multiplying the effectiveness of other still or moving images and vice versa)
At the time of writing this book, we are living at the dawn of the digital age. I myself was born a few months before Doug Engelbart’s famous demo in 1968 (I hope you are still aware of it) and my generation has seen the transition from paper-only books to green CRT screens to rough black and white, and then colour and finally high-resolution screens, as high-resolution as early paper printing.
Many of us are excited by the coming full-view headset or projections of what we call ‘Virtual Reality’ and, when mixed with what our eyes see in front of us naturally, ‘Augmented Reality’. Others are excited by the power of computing power so far beyond the early days that we think of it almost like magic and call it ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (although of course this is not real intelligence, it’s just sophisticated, though useful, statistical analysis on large volumes of data). We are also writing this at an age when speaking to computers and listening to their synthetic speech has become possible and routine for many tasks, such as asking for basic information, initiating a voice or video call and so on.
We have also developed powerful technologies for authoring images and videos, though the amount of people who are inclined and able to produce useful communications of these media remain much smaller than the amount who can record still images, video and even 360 video or 3D video on their ‘phones’ or other relatively cheap consumer devices, including using drones. It is easy to record hours of video. It is easy to post a picture of family or friends on social media but few integrate it into a narrative beyond pictures from a specific event.
The same goes for textual authoring. It is easy to dictate or type in volume and most people today do, in the form of short ‘text’ messages, social media posts or longer pieces for study, work or leisure. It is much harder to make this mass of text truly accessible–we still write mostly in columns, import illustrations from elsewhere and have severe restrictions for how we can connect or link information from different locations or sources and hardly any opportunity to address specific sections of text. We then leave little information in our primitive digital documents, which are currently in paper-facsimile of the PDF document format, when we publish the result of our work.
We know we need to build more powerful ways to author for our intents to come across clearly and to augment the readers ability to grasp those intents, while at the same time being able to question it, but in this generation this is seen mostly as a commercial problem and many older people think purely of the marvel of how far computer systems have come and lack the imagination for how much further it can go.
I can easily see that you might look back at our age with a feeling that we were a bit disorganized, but please keep in mind, we are but young in this, we are the first digital natives and we hope our distant descendants will have matured far beyond where we are in terms of applying imagination and resources to better develop the means to record knowledge and carry our dialog. When we look at the state of the world today this is hard to imagine getting to such a state, admittedly, with such a polluted atmosphere in political and climate terms, but we hope our species will survive, thrive and grow, all the while investing in how we think and communicate. When we look at the state of our distant ancestors, who first started using stone tools, we are puzzled how they did not improve on the first design for over a million years and hope that you will think of us fondly, if a little puzzled by our lack of imagination and investment too.
We are at an age where we are stuck between the linear-only text past and the multi-connected opportunities to portray the truly multi-dimensional space of knowledge which are currently possible and the reality that thought is sequential, and arguments are sequential–we don’t yet know how to accommodate both truths though we know the path forward somehow deals with the linearised and the multi-dimensional.
My name is Frode Alexander Hegland, my wife is Emily Maki Ballard Hegland and our beautiful baby boy is Edgar Kazu Hegland, all of us now lost in the mist of time, but all of us grateful to have been on this journey and hopefully contributed a little something to the world you live in today. We lived in a tiny bubble on the timeline of this beautiful universe, eternally grateful for our moments, as we hope you are.
Dear Reader of Today
The letter to the distant future is as relevant to you as it is to our deep descendants: How can we improve the way we record our knowledge and carry out our dialog?
Will we abdicate our responsibility and cross our fingers that AI will do the ‘thinking’ for us, and that somehow bigger displays, whether in 2D or VR will allow us to ‘see’ deeper than what we can represent in a high-resolution frame? Do we expect that those who sell software have augmentation as their core driving force or that their focus is to run a business? Are we expecting academia to be able to take the time out from academic pressures to drive the development of what I would call richly interactive text? No, this comes down to you, dear reader. The responsibility for how we invest in, and develop our communications is all of our responsibility.
We need to ask the questions of how we want to live with our own thoughts and those of our fellows today and, for inspiration’s sake, how we want to be viewed in the distant future. And then we need to act.
Can we invest in this to the point where we will need to publish a sequel to this work, explaining how far we have come in such as short time? That would be an achievement for the ages.
Goodbye Gutenberg, Greetings Global Brain.