One of my favourite magazines, The Futurist Magazine (July-August 2008), has an interesting article (“The 21st-Century Writer“) as the cover story. I was fascinated by this examination of knowledge media and its impact on the publishing industry. The article was reporting on a conference inÃ‚Â February — in midtown Manhattan — publishing magnate and tech guru Tim OÃ¢Â€Â™ReillyÃ¢Â€Â™s Ã¢Â€ÂœTools of ChangeÃ¢Â€Â conference.
One thing caught my eye, in particular — a quote from Stephen Abram, a past president of the Canadian Library Association, who said …
(we) need to Ã¢Â€Âœstop telling and start listening, to start working from the readerÃ¢Â€Â™s, the user Ã¢Â€Â™s, the experiencer Ã¢Â€Â™s contact in. Then they can start creating the products that actually match the behaviors of their user base. In many markets, the traditional publishing formats are misaligned with what needs to happen.Ã¢Â€Â
The reading of static text is a poor substitute for a visceral experience and always has been, said Abram. Plain text sufficed because there was no alternative, no superior way to convey complex data. ThatÃ¢Â€Â™s changed. Abram argued that itÃ¢Â€Â™s up to publishers to pick among the available media toolsÃ¢Â€Â”including video clips, audio files, even virtual realityÃ¢Â€Â”and pull them together into a package that facilitates learning, not just reading.
Ã¢Â€ÂœDo you want your cardiac surgeon to walk into your room before he does your surgery and say, Ã¢Â€Â˜I read the article last nightÃ¢Â€Â™? No, you want him to have had a thousand experiences putting his hand in someoneÃ¢Â€Â™s chest and know what it feels like. It should be just like an experience a car mechanic has where he can put his hand on the hood of your car and say itÃ¢Â€Â™s the manifold because heÃ¢Â€Â™s seen it, heard it, smelled it a thousand times.Ã¢Â€Â
What fascinates me with this line of thinking is how it related to the development of expertise (central to my PhD research) and also how this ties to the use of knowledge media to disseminate and acculturate knowledge. Another area of interest for me is Participatory Design (or User-Centered Design). Stephen introduces the notion (inadvertently) of user centered publishing — an interesting framing of the opportunity. Congrats, Stephen! And thanks for these insightful comments from which I will derive many useful quotes.