The future of reading

Into Orbit, Kosmograd on the ArcelorMittal Orbit: ‘Considered as a modern folly, I think it performs quite admirably’. A fine piece that considers provenance, media reaction, visual culture and architectural criticism: ‘Surrounding the structure is a totally unnatural crowd scene, a SketchUp rent-a-mob. Here Arup must take some responsibility; there’s no way that Hadid or Foster, for instance, would let an image like that out in public. Arup has misgauged that modern architectural criticism for the Dezeen generation is the about the consumption of images rather than the consideration of form.’

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This latter point is exemplified by the trajectory of the Serpentine Pavilion, now in its tenth year. Looking at the collected works is slightly disappointing; there’s no sense of progression, or even, dare we say it, innovation. Instead, the pavilion’s main function has been as a means of ticking a box and providing a safe berth for the otherwise ignored great minds of contemporary architecture. The results are increasingly perfect for our image-driven world, miniature icons served up as if in a chocolate box of fancy fondants. Chances are that the ‘lost pavilion‘, MVRDV’s doomed ‘Dutch Mountain‘, will soon blend into the others, and be remembered as if it were actually built. Just as past pavilions seem to crated up in some secret location, so the imaginary mountain can just fade into the topography of Hyde Park. A fictional history will locate it beneath it a likely-looking mound, a modern day Sillbury Hill that will one day be probed for old I-beams and empty bottles of Becks.

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The informed, illustrated essay, exemplified by the Kosmograd article linked above, or a post from City of Sound or BLDG BLOG or Design Observer or (insert your own area of interest here) on any given day, will soon become the dominant model of reading. Amidst all the speculation about how, when and why emerging technology will usurp old paper media, the answer has been staring us in the face for several years. It is the illustrated essay, rich in links and associations, illustrations, cross-referencing and, above all, engaging writing and thinking, that will thrive on these devices.

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As if to confirm the above. Berthier’s Door, BLDG BLOG on a piece of Parisian conceptual art, a door to nowhere simply inserted into a spare piece of blank urban fabric and unquestioningly accepted as part of the city. This kicks of a set of typical Manaugh-style musings, pointers for further reading and thinking. Half our life is spent using a mental clipboard, with thoughts that are copied and pasted into our mind and inevitably overwritten and lost. Imagine a form of super syndication, an RSS system that packages up posts as if they were hyper-dense magazine articles, or miniature non-fictions, short books or long essays, then displays them as a kind of iBook library, a cloud of assocations that can be as broad as you define. From there, you would go here, a piece on underground Paris at Untapped Paris, with a side-serving of China Miéville’s short story Reports Of Certain Events In London, onwards and onwards into the rabbit hole.

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There is an appetite for this. Granted, things is skewed in a certain direction, but our relatively singular focus only serves to illustrate just how much other stuff is out there. The weblog has allowed the short essay to flourish, for creative writing – and imagery – to proliferate at a time when attention has been focused elsewhere, on the micro-currents of modern trends and fascinations represented by tweets or the struggles to recreate the character of paper on screen, and get people to pay for it (see the new Times website, for example – it actually looks pretty good, until you hit the sign-in demand).

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It’s been a couple of years since Steve Jobs denounced reading, albeit in a way that served to bolster the impending arrival of new Apple technology (“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”) Of course, what Jobs meant was that ‘people will read if they use our product.’ Similarly, James Murdoch’s criticism of digitisation is underpinned by worries about the loss of control of potentially revenue-generating material. Controlling content and technology are still the prime considerations of major corporations, rather unsurprisingly. But given that this – the weblog – is proving to be the primary medium for short and long-form writing, there is much to be said for a platform that pushes this content out into new technology.

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Other things. NYC London seems to have quietly shuttered its doors / design at Neasden Control Centre / Design Noted / Brussels Sprout, ‘a free curatorial magazine on contemporary thinking and emergent art’ / What I Wore, a tumblr. Self-indulgent, yes, but real and authentic in a way that fashion magazines can never hope to be and even the likes of the Sartorialist can’t match / at home with Jean-Paul Gaultier / around the world with Henri Cartier-Bresson / Google Pacman costs businesses $120m.

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4 Responses to The future of reading

  1. Pingback: Second lives | things magazine

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