The Prevailing Technology Trap

Digital book readers have the possibles to improve books in innovative ways.

(Apple iPad picture found on cnet.com)

Apple last week released its version of a tablet, the iPad. While it looks like an elegant device, it is similar to other hand-held screen computers. Like with the iPod, the real innovations will likely be the associated software services like the bookstore introduced. This confirms my belief that printed books are about the get disrupted by digital books. Apple’s e-reader software takes experience of reading paper books to the digital format. While it is clever to take a familiar model people know and replicate it on-line, it can restrict innovative use of new technology.

Technology cramming is when products that were invented with one technology get crammed into new technology. There are many examples of technology cramming. The first cars looked like stagecoaches, the first online newspapers looked like printed newspapers. And now digital books in ereaders look like printed books.

The reason for this is what I call The Prevailing Technology Trap. Current and dominant technology will highly influence new innovation, and can even restrict them. Innovators are so influenced by the current technologies that they will try to work according to them, including their limitations.

Even Alexander Bell was not trying to invent the telephone. He was trying to improve the telegraph, the prevailing communication technology at the time.

The digital e-readers with the on-line Internet services have many possibilities to improve books. Books are traditionally linear stream of text. Some books have media items like still pictures. With digital books these restrictions don’t apply. Textbooks for example can have hyperlinks to further explanations, embedded videos, and cross-references. Many Internet news stories have links directly to their sources.

With digital books, text can even be in different sizes and depth, for differentiated learning. Consider a textbook that is in a compact mode. It will have a short and concise text with all major points. In expanded mode it will contain more explanations and examples, and in elaborate mode it might have several case studies to explain concepts in more depth. Students can choose which version to read. A quick review for an exam might for example favor the compact mode. Stories can also be more flexible in storytelling. What if you could read a book in different paths? Or digress into another story or a subplot before continuing with the main story.

With digital books, new possibilities emerge. As the new digital format of books matures we will see books escape the limitations of the printed format and truly become a new experience.

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