Books in the age of the iPad, or the future of things. We’ve been offline for much of the past month so the iPad kerfuffle has largely passed us by. The consensus seems to be that this is a device without a clear purpose, yet one that is so compelling that a purpose will inevitably be found, come hell or high water. Sadly, it implies yet another level of flattening, a hundredweight of technological innovation to squish the editorial experience even thinner. We once wrote that the internet was ‘a world with an atmosphere just one pixel thick that has reached out across all forms of media and turned everything into a vast, shallow pool that stretches as far as the eye can see’. To our jaded eyes, the iPad apparently exists to squish that pixel further, a waypoint on the road to the inevitable electronic paper that rolls up and slips into a pocket.
How will content creation be affected by the new world of tablets? The only application that instantly springs to mind is the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an infinitely deep and wise device where the personality and breadth of content trumped the delivery medium. Thus far, without content to consult, the iPad looks like reversing that relationship; delivery medium comes first. This is perhaps a riposte to the failure of the first great wave of technocentric publishing, the CD-Rom magazine, a medium that was lacklustre and frustrating right from the start (‘The circulation figures are low to minuscule and the ad pages are almost nonexistent, but that has not stopped a number of magazine publishers from diving into the interactive CD-ROM market’, New York Times, September 5, 1994). Message was hampered by medium.
Arguably, in a hyper-accelerated age, the message matters far less than the medium. The rumours that GQ will debut on the device sums it up for now; a magazine hellbent on bolstering its own ‘brand status’, bolstering its self importance as an arbitrator of life and style. It’s a valid strategy, one that can’t be faulted or really criticised, given the current state of the market. But for now the buzz behind the iPad – and its inevitable imitators – will be as something for a quick fix of flashy (but not _flash_) fun, an oil slick on the surface depths that responds to being poked, pushed, pinched and flicked. How much we would love a screen version of Cabinet, where esoterica, imagery and a dense forest of hyperlinks would flesh out the device, rather than perpetuate the struggle between spread and screen.
The iPad doesn’t lend itself well to rediscovery, leafing through the thrill of a faded pile of old magazines, or even (increasingly), or even the arcana represented by a long-archived website, 404s and all. Like many people, we have folders of images, pdfs and even webpages, clipped and downloaded over a decade ago, back before everyone assumed online things were perpetual and forever retrievable. Perhaps the iPad would work well as a place for the permanent storage and indexing of personal archives, a true manifestation of the Memex.
Space is obviously no longer the issue. Vannevar Bush (As We May Think, July 1945) memorably observed that ‘a library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk. If the human race has produced since the invention of movable type a total record, in the form of magazines, newspapers, books, tracts, advertising blurbs, correspondence, having a volume corresponding to a billion books, the whole affair, assembled and compressed, could be lugged off in a moving van’. What matters is the mode of display.
Tablets are potentially a point of divergence, a place from where the presentation of knowledge forks down two distinct paths. One way will represent another stage in the history of multimedia, the interactivity and technological trickery certain publications are itching to unleash. The other is as a dumb box, a filing cabinet of user-curated content. A portable personal museum.
There will also be those who describe this split as a case of new versus old (see also the report on the EDO/BSME event: What's on your iPad?). However, as we hope we continue to demonstrate, the curatorial approach is one which thrives on new technolgical platforms. The future of consumer publishing will initially consist of spinning 360s of cars and phones, increasing the dependence on advertisers to co-sponsor and finance content. But as magazines find their way, it’s easy to imagine a Monocle offering infused with the spirit of a Saul Bass title sequence, an ‘inflight’ iPad that offers a genuine choice of things to read curated from around the world. The possibilities are endless, and its clear from the outset that the solutions won’t necessarily arrive from traditional (paper or online) magazine sources. At the same time, portable museology can only thrive.
A few more digital things. What happened next to the dot.com boom stars? / the relentless growth of interactive infographics as a way of illustrating the news: 100 top sites on the internet / the perils of the smart home. There’s a short story in that, somewhere / dare you risk navigating the Chatroulette Map? Fairly obviously nsfw.
Other things. Many, many old magazine covers at the Cover Browser. Old selections from Car and Driver / a recipe from Ed Ruscha (‘Break eggs into bowl. Slightly undermix with whisk or fork’) / 6 pack abs, the cover line that keeps on giving / amazing images of an abandoned Ekranoplan / Mansions go modular as costs, timeline lure high-end buyers / double Herzog (or double de Meuron): Transforming the Tate, the ongoing works for the new Tate Modern Extension (previously) and some panoramic interiors of the new VitraHaus at the Vitra Campus.
Observe a helicopter drop test / a collection of Cartoons of 1939 / Abstract City, by Christoph Niemann, getting a lot of coverage / wile away the hours with Google Play / A tour of the Mac desktop / Museums in Boxes / empty city photography by Rigo van Wersch at Yatzer / digital city, pixellated: 8-bit NYC.
TECTONICA blog, architecture / LAY FLAT, an imprint / the work of Lebbeus Woods / the art of the trench, Burberry-sponsored ad-site / photography by Fisher Hart / the International Directory of Sculpture Parks and Gardens / a directory of CPU Benchmarks / the 1969 Mercedes C111, a great big orange dose of futurism / Model Cities (via)
a short history of the Luger / The Chuckie Egg Professional’s Resource Kit / For Further Information ‘publishes books on art, design, writing and other activities, modelled on a micro-press
economy’ / Greg Brown, a tumblr / Susi-A, a weblog stuffed full of retro imagery and old photographs / Not coming to a theatre near you.
The Third and the Seventh, a CGI architecture film, via The Interior Prospect / the design of the Alte Weser lighthouse / the Lobster Pictures timelapse showreel / Paper Heritage / architecture photosets by Luiz Seo / America’s Classic Rotary Phones.