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Is Print Media Really Not Interactive?

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In the ongoing debate about the death of print at the hands of the easy and aparently user-inclusive Internet, I have to question the assumption that print is a one way dialogue, not open to interpretation. I admit, this stance is a bit tricky to take if we’re talking about the dissemenation of hard facts (news) and maybe even if we’re talking about traditional novel. Newspapers and (most) books follow the same general format and don’t take advantage of the spatial relationship provided by printing on a collection of paper. For that reason, there are many versions of Huckleberry Finn, and sure, you get the same message regardless of which edition you read.

But what if we look at books as more than just the words they contain? What if the package itself and the way the words are arranged changed and infused the book object with relevant content that was not actually written?

One of the reasons that so many (including myself) find the internet invaluable is the ability to search and with little or not exhaustive effort and find what you want. This is thrilling, necessary and above all, practical and useful. What the internet lacks, however, is tactility and a spatial presence. We cannot underestimate the importance of what it means to hold and interact wth a book.

Here is where interaction needs to be defined. With the advent of blogs and commenting features, the assumption is that interaction only takes place within the larger community and when one’s voice can be directly included in the conversation itself (in the form of comments placed below blog posts and texts). I have to disagree.

I find it easy to define the way people read a book as an interaction. A book, like a blog, is a collection of decisions, and while clearly more editorial than an online publication, these decisions still ultimately affect the greater message that a book is disseminates. It is easy to lose sight of the gravity and importance of a book’s design when it is mediocre and uninspiring. However, when a designed book trascends its “bookness,” becoming part of the subject itself, the interaction that takes place not only begins to differ from user to user, but the interaction becomes essential to the experience of the publication.

I fear that with our insistance and dependance on the immediate, we forego the pleasures and rewards of an interaction that is not measureable through comments and page hits. You go to a blog, and click what you like. You pick up a book and read what grabs your atttention. Both are relevant, both should exist. As long as they fight against each other, we (creatures of convenince) will ultimately do a tremendous disservice to the art of writing and crafting reading experience.

No, this may not save any newspapers. Maybe magazines will flounder too. But book publishers shouldn’t admit defeat until they exhaust every possbility that smart design can bring to the medium.

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Written by beckyquintal

March 4, 2009 at 1:24 am

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