New Technology, Books, and the Future of Education

This video here, with the first ever fully-interactive book, is by far the coolest thing I’ve seen with the application of books to a digital media.  It makes the Nook and other eReaders look terribly low-tech.

When I see tech like this, see how it is transforming old media into new media, into a new creative means to obtain information, I can’t help but get a little giddy.  But I also have my concerns.

I remember (and I’m dating myself here) when the History Channel aired its first programs; I used to sit and watch them all (mainly about the Civil War and WWII) but I can recall, even now, thinking back to the early 90’s, the programs about the lives of Pocahontas, or of certain figures in history, which were completely revisionary and countered my young mind’s thoughts about those characters, those cultural myths I held about them (especially the founding fathers of this country).  At one point in my life–before I knew better–the History Channel and networks like it were a large part of the educational background about the past.  I used to put a great deal of weight on their programs.   And I’m sure for most of the lay population, this remains a truism.

In today’s politically-charged, Biblical-history-esque world, where anyone can ‘play at archaeology’ (al la Simcha Jacobovici or Elkington) the programs run on networks like Discovery and History present a troubling consequence primarily for historians, but also to society in general–who risk losing their past through the exploitation of their ignorance of it by these networks.   The rise of technology and the spreading of historical information over these new mediums create historical memes that stick and, unfortunately, don’t go away without a fight.  In other words, what is being portrayed as history is, in fact, history’s antithesis; yet the medium by which this blasphemy is being being peddled is so effective at its job, that countering it is difficult and time consuming and exponentially more work.

What do you think? What potential could this future book hold towards developing better and more interesting ways to educate people about the past? In what ways could it hinder it?

2 Responses

  1. I think that it could make a difference, but not because of the technology alone, it will make a difference mostly because of the ecosystem. The problem you described with networks, is that they are large corporations that need to make money from their programs. So what is the best way to make money? To attract as many viewers as possible, and to do this you need sensationalism. To make history interesting for the average person, it usually needs embellishment added to the facts, or in extreme cases, the embellishments replace the facts. It’s just a reality of the times we live in, a good portion of the population is not very interested in factual history. For example, which movie title would gain the most viewers? “The Role of the Priest in Ancient Egyptian Society” or “Did Aliens Build the Egyptian Pyramids”

    On the other hand, the Apple ecosystem, with its reasonable pricing, allows a small group or even a single individual to publish on this worldwide system. So money and sensationalism are not the corner stone of this publishing system. And the interactive manner of the books will certainly make learning real history more entertaining.

  2. The future is far bigger than this video intimates. Books — I mean the very concept of books — is tied to the pre-digital age. This video shows what can be done with books plus a bit of whizz-bang tech. But let’s move on!

    Instead of all those images and tables etc bound within “The Book”, let’s bring in linked data — the way the web was originally designed to be. Why be limited to one author’s perspective? Why not open up gateways to every other database and point of view that is out there?

    I know, My vision is a decade or two ahead of this, but that’s the cross I have to bear being a metadata specialist librarian!

    Neil Godfrey

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