Interactive futuristic books

The make-believe future seen in The Last Bookshop is a world where paper books are all but forgotten. Where physical shops have become a thing of the past, and “money” is an old-fashioned term for the defunct notes and coins replaced by online credits. It is also a world where all forms of communication, media and entertainment have evolved together into an interactive holographic technology overseen by the mighty GamaZone corporation.

Some cynical commentators predict a dystopian future along these lines might not be so far-fetched. Others remain more optimistic.

Either way, it cannot be disputed that decades from now, technology will indeed have progressed in as-yet-unimaginable directions. The cultural history of the written word will undoubtedly have undergone yet more plot twists and cliffhangers, whether those are played out on paper, screen, or both.

But our film isn’t really about the future so much as it is about the present. It is about exploring this odd era we find ourselves in, where old established ways of life are called into question and changed so utterly by technology that is relatively recent and fledgling. We mould our lives around Facebook, around our mobile phones, just as since the 1950s we have moulded ours lives around TV viewing (nowadays increasingly online).

Many people will tell you that the only way publishers can make money is by printing tons of celebrity books that are essentially parasitic upon the entertainment industries in general. So it’s interesting then to see how portable entertainment technology responds to the issue of books. How it furthers their story, if you will.

One of the latest flashy pieces of kit is of course the iPad (although ironically I understand it doesn’t support Flash… ahem, little IT joke there). I was recently made aware of an interactive iPad app featuring a character called Morris Lessmore, which is more than a little bookish in nature. Here’s an advert for it…

Now, I’m not in a position to review the iPad app. Most obviously because I don’t have an iPad. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I live a life of relative poverty peppered with the occasional purchasing of actual books. I’m not a complete luddite: I make films, I blog… I’m capable of making lame jokes about Adobe software. But I don’t for example have a snazzy phone. I don’t use social networks. I had a go on a Nintendo 3DS this Christmas and my brain nearly boiled at how futuristic it was.

Nevertheless, as an interactive reading experience you would have to be a real misery guts to deny that The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore looks pretty startling. And that’s not simply because I’m a fan of silent films and Morris clearly owes a debt to Buster Keaton. I can well imagine a child (including children who have the inconvenience of being adults) getting drawn in by all the usual swiping, scrolling and prodding of the iPad’s touchscreen as they manipulate the animated environment. I’m also impressed to read in an interview, the lead artist saying that “every functionality had to be something that kept the reader in the story, or moved the story forward (rather than) bells and whistles that don’t serve the story, and in fact often pull you out.”

The Morris Lessmore website makes it clear that their project is in fact not simply an iPad app, but a film and a physical book too. Indeed, the iPad app appears to have been a later consideration.

All of which is food for thought when we consider how the story of books and bookselling might progress from here. And how advancing technology might replace, hybridise with or perhaps even harmonise with book-based storytelling…

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