When Gutenberg printed his first Bible with moveable type, he took great pains to make it look as though it had been copied by hand.
The makers of the first dramatic movies tried hard to make their work as much like stage plays and novels as possible.
The early talkies were wall-to-wall dialog and orchestra because, well, there was sound.
When color started to appear regularly in films, the screen was a riot of hyper-saturated hues, as if to make sure you wouldn’t forget you were watching a movie in color!
When post production people started to use computer graphics for special effects, we suddenly found ourselves watching movies that were more about CGI than characters.
In each one of these cases, new communication technology was defined by the preceding technology, either by trying to reproduce the earlier form, or to make sure people were aware that you were using the latest technology. As a result, the stories tended to take a back seat to the machines. It took about a decade before storytellers learned how to use the technologies as effective storytelling devices without the need to demonstrate the technology itself. In other words, it took time learn to use technology in ways that no one was aware the machines were even there because the story had all their.
Where are we with ebooks? Well, if they were movies, 2012 would be about 1904. In other words, we have not yet seen the definitive ebook. By that I mean a self-contained digital communication that provides a satisfying artistic experience that is a result of inherent properties of the digital technologies used to create it. It isn’t an electronic “version” of anything else. It doesn’t derive its power from recalling to mind another medium.
I want someday to be walking out of a movie theater and hear people say, “Yeah, but it wasn’t as good as the ebook.”
What we have at this point appears to be one of two things: First we have a lot of books preoccupied with reproducing the preceding medium, i.e. ebooks that try as hard a possible to be like paper books in the same way early movies tried to reproduce stage plays on the screen. The second is ebooks (or some variant thereof) that are electronic gimmicks, gadgets and novelties that feel more like parlor tricks than the experience of a great novel or movie.
Where is the Melias, the Griffith, the Eisenstein of ebooks? Where is the ebook equivalent of The Great Train Robbery, the movie that defined storytelling in feature films? The question is not rhetorical: if you know of an ebook that speaks powerfully and clearly because of — not in spite of — the attributes inherent in its electronic format, please share it and let us start to build on it.