Feb 032010

Back in the late 1990s when I was envisioning the different ways of publishing Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story, I had an idea for an electronic version. Back in the computer middle ages, the only way I could’ve does this was on a CD, a bit clunky as a medium I had to admit. But with Apple’s announcement of its new iPad, I have the perfect medium to execute my idea. Too bad it’s a bit late and I don’t have the energy or many of the raw materials anymore — though I did make a few attempts with a Flickr slideshow and YouTube video — to make it happen. Still, it’s nice to revisit my imagined Lifeliner: The EBook.

Back then, I didn’t think of it as an eBook, as simply an electronic version of the printed book. I imagined it as an interactive experience with photographs and videos, interview excerpts and audio, and of course the text itself. I imagined that in one package one could read, listen to, and watch Judy’s story.

For background research on Lifeliner, I had interviewed over 60 people, all of which I had taped (except when my recorder decided to act up or batteries gave up, having less stamina than humans deep in question and answer). I had borrowed and watched videos of Judy having a good time in her community or shilling for Toronto General Hospital. I had a plethora of Judy’s personal archival material, school records, family photographs, and my own photographs that I’d taken of her home. And I had medical records up the whazoo. I felt that seeing and hearing this material, judiciously edited, would bring Judy and her personal and medical experiences to life in a way that was different from reading a book or seeing a movie. The reader could decide what they wanted to watch or not, what they wanted to listen to or not. I don’t remember all the details, but I have a memory of it being like a game where the reader determined the path they took. Some would be more interested in the medical side, while others in Bobcaygeon life. Some would want to see the family side more, while others her doctor and fellow lifeliners. All would be possible.

With the Apple iPad, it’s at last doable.

Many are talking about eBooks as just electronic versions of printed books. In that form, eBooks, I believe, are best read on eInk technology because reading is more than just the cognitive act of processing words and sentences, it’s also the physical act of keeping one’s eyes sharp. And a bright screen isn’t always the best for long periods of straight reading. But I believe that one can do so much more with a digital book than just putting text in bits and bytes, particularly in the field of biography, and that’s where the iPad shines. Several decades ago, biographers really only had printed materials like letters, which could readily be photographed and reproduced on the printed page. But today, with modern subjects, we have video and audio, photographs and e-mails, as well as letters or articles. You can’t see those in books. But a well-edited choice of all of these could be shown to readers through the Apple iPad. When they’re reading about a television interview, they could click on a still shot and watch the interview. When they’re reading a letter, they could click on the letter and hear it being read in the author’s voice (author of the letter, that is, if still alive). They could read the book as the book author wrote it or perhaps follow a game format where they focus on one particular aspect of the subject’s life. Really, with digital media, only the author’s imagination and publisher’s innovation is the limit.

It’s too bad this technology came too late for me and Lifeliner, but perhaps if I find the right agent and publisher, we can work on a way to bring video and audio and photos to my newest book for the Apple iPad.

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