From reading books to 'veading vooks'

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009

I feel vindicated. Years ago I predicted that books would contain video content and at some point students would watch Hamlet on an e-book and actually believe they had read it - because they were staring at a book. I don't think we are far from that point now.

Enter the Vook. You can go to vook.com and vead (view + read = vead) all about it.

One way to view the Vook is as the inevitable end of the long, slow decline of the book. Another way to look at it is that we finally came home. First there was public storytelling. We gathered in circles and listened to others spin the yarn that held our communities together.

Then came books, with their private point of view. We sat alone, within our minds, and did all that deep processing that reading creates. Then came TV and we sat once again, alone or in very small groups. It was sort of like reading except that the deep neural activity was replaced by pitch men who sold us stuff like soap and cigarettes.

And now the Vook brings us half circle. Rather than replace the book, the Vook embeds TV within a book format, though I suspect most will see it the other way around - a little bit of text to go along with lots of moving pictures.

Enough history. Let's get on to the really good stuff. The Vook is more than just a non-book. It also combines social networking. Imagine being able to Facebook with your friends as you vead and you get the idea. So, you read a bit of Hamlet, view the instant replay, then twitter your friends about how annoying it is that the characters don't speak English. MySpace meets Harlequin Romance, all set within a soap opera context. But this is just the beginning. Imagine Sarah Palin's book with snippets of speeches interspersed throughout. You could click on her outfit and find out where she bought it. Could life get any better?

There are smart ways to use this new technology. How-to books come to mind, from construction to cooking, from programming to learning piano. Imagine directions that you can read, view and talk to others about. It sounds like a bunch of people showing each other how to do things, a time honored approach to education.

Yet, I fear how-to vooks containing gardening demonstrations won't sell like celebrity tell-all vooks with spicy video footage. There's dirt, then there's dirt.

Alas, once again we are faced with technology that could make us smarter or dumber. And once again technology, the great amplifier, will make it hard to hide from ourselves.

• Jason Ohler is a retired professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at jasonohler@gmail.com. His Web site is www.jasonohler.com.



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