Wednesday, April 7, 2010

E-telling on the iPad

Does the iPad change everything? Of course not. By now we should have learned that NOTHING ever changes EVERYTHING. But I’ve been playing with this device for a day now, and I can say with confidence that it does this: it expands possibilities for the storyteller.

To begin studying this issue, everyone should view the remarkable video created by Penguin, entitled iPad Imagineering. From the perspective of a book publishing fan, I found it heartening. It deserves to go viral. Too often book publishers have run scared from new technology, then ventured in one toe at a time, as if the water were too hot for their metabolism.

Not Penguin, not now. Here is a publisher acting, rather than reacting. Here is a publisher asserting that it will have a role in the new paradigm, a role it will seize itself, which is how all business gets done in growing markets, where nobody hands you anything — where, as Jack Welch famously said, you eat your own lunch or someone else will.

What Penguin has “imagineered” is iPad children’s books on which a kid can move objects and fill in colors, reference books where the user can drill down into pictures, novels where the reader can vote in polls and chat live with other fans, travel books where you can build your own itinerary, and a star-finder template that knows where you’re standing in relation to the night sky.

It’s a great start, but it emphasizes the low-hanging fruit: children’s books that want to be interactive; reference books that want dipping into. What about the storyteller?

As a next step, let’s envision a novel that both stands on its own and allows the reader to employ her own imagination. I picture the iPad version of Cadaver Blues — when it comes — enabling readers to build their own portrait of what Phu Goldberg might look like, to build biographies of the characters as in the game of Clue, to pose guesses throughout the story of what’s going to happen, to read the history of places in the story, and perhaps to track the movements of the characters on a map.

Who will build these layers? I don’t know. Perhaps e-telling will require collaboration between the storyteller and specialists like those who pool their talents to make plays and movies and video games, all of which go beyond the core of their story elements.

I don’t know, but I’m willing to engage the possibilities. Are you?