Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kinetic Convergence?

Text has danced for quite awhile. Watching a Powerpoint presentation is sometimes a jarring experience as the data points samba across the screen, blink in and out and sometimes hide as much as they reveal about the speakers' point. Sometimes I think we're probably better off without it. But moving text doesn't have to be bedlam. Last week when I was looking at people who stepped outside the normal venues for delivering text, I remembered this video by video blogger Alan Lafustka aka "Fallofautumndistro". Alan put up an animated video of the Kenneth Koch poem 'Social Life with Friends'. This kinetic poem is done very well (I think) and I love the poem, which fits my current mood. I don't necessarily agree that it has to be an either/or proposition -- in this and in all things, finding a workable balance is the key. The reason I bring this up is the notion of delivering a story as animated words, so called 'kinetic typography'. There are a number of these poems and snippets of books on YouTube and as is the nature of the Tube, they are executed with a widely varying degree of skill. As ever, finding the workable balance is the key. Moving text can give you a migraine or it can inform and illustrate what it's trying to get across to you. In the middle of the dust-up awhile back about Kindle's 'read to me' app I started thinking about the future intersection between text and speech. Some books simply cannot be brought across as audio books. If you've ever read 'House of Leaves' you'll know what I mean, but Danielewski's acid trip of a novel isn't alone in breaking free of the stereotypical typeblock. A few weeks ago, I took my nephews to a bookstore and read over their shoulders as they browsed. I was astounded by how much even the middle grade books were straining against the format. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney especially seems to be ripe for a method of delivery that would blend animation and text. Not a full-on cartoon, but a kinetic book. Of course, your e-Reader would need a video card, but with Barnes & Noble's entry into the e-book world, we're on the doorstep of true convergence. One of the many possible definitions of "convergence", is a blend of the abilities of many gadgets into one omni-gadget. An iPhone, for instance. The new B&N site, along with the controversial Google Books site is already delivering content that doesn't require a specific e-reader in order to view it. That means you can read your e-book on a PDA, Blackberry, laptop or netbook. I'm typing this blogpost on an netbook that honestly doesn't outweigh an e-reader by that much and has the added benefit of allowing me to watch video as well as choose between working on my book or reading someone else's. I predict that at some point this force of 'convergence' will either eliminate the e-reader or force their creators to allow them to do more than just read books. As books take on new dimensions and text slips the physical restraints of ink on a page, the possibilities for a convergence of our own are virtually limitless. Words can dance, appear and disappear, and illustrations will no longer be forced into a static realm. And as the technologies and artforms converge, it will either be beautiful or absolute and unadulterated bedlam. I've prepared a Powerpoint presentation that shows why it will probably be a bit of both. . .
Scott Walker Perkins writes literary thrillers and novels of suspense woven from the threads of history. His current novel is The Palimpsest and he is working on another tentatively titled 42 Lines.
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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).