What is the role of the book in an Every Page is Page One world? The question is pertinent because I have just signed a contract with XML Press to write a book on Every Page is Page One.
Yes, I get the irony. But Every Page is Page One is not a statement about the universe. It is a statement about the Web, and about online systems that behave (or that users expect will behave) like the Web. On the Web, Every Page is Page One. The Web is, or is rapidly becoming, the dominant form of information exchange today, which means it shapes peoples habits and expectations for all media. But it is not the only form of information exchange, and it never will be.
We should note here that the Web serves a dual role in information exchange. It is both a medium in its own right (a hypertext medium of linked pages) and a delivery vehicle for electronic files containing other media (downloading movies or ebooks). When I say that the Web is an Every Page is Page One medium, I am referring to it as a hypertext medium, not as a delivery vehicle. Thus putting a PDF on a website for download is not using the Web as a hypertext medium, but as a delivery mechanism for a stand-alone electronic file. In the future, the Web may well become the sole delivery mechanism for every type of media, but there will still be a distinction between stand-alone media like books and movies delivered via the Web, and the hypertext media that is the Web itself.
In this context, the word “book” does not necessarily mean a thing made of paper (though as a child of the analog age, I will admit to relishing the thought of holding a paper edition of my book, when it is released). Book here means a long sustained narrative designed for linear reading. While the book I am writing will certainly draw from material from this blog, therefore, it will not be a collection of blog posts. It will be a book length exposition of the Every Page is Page One concept.
Still, the irony must be addressed: why a book about Every Page is Page One when I already have a blog about Every Page is Page One, and blogs are themselves an Every Page is Page One form, while books are not.
The blog has all sorts of properties that make sense in an Every Page is Page One world: it is accessible to search, and it supports comments, which means a post can become a discussion. It is a great example of the Web working as a colloquium. On the other hand, there is no particular discipline about it. Each post tends to be about whatever is top of mind for me on the day I wrote it, and a lot of it has little or nothing to do with Every Page is Page One; it is about tech comm in general.
So why a book? First, let’s observe that the writing of books about forms that are not books is common. There are books on screenwriting that are not screenplays. There are books on poetry that are not written in verse. There are books on writing short stories that are neither short nor stories. The best vehicle to describe a communications vehicle is often a different vehicle from the one described. (An interesting counterpoint is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which is a comic about writing comics.)
But why a book about Every Page is Page One? The answer, I think, lies in a more general question: why a book about anything? It certainly isn’t about length. It isn’t the case that the bigger the subject, the bigger the book. As David Weinberger points out, Long form thought is not wide enough for deep thinking, big problems and big ideas require the counterpoint of many minds, not the monologue of one mind. A web of topics from many authors may be required to develop and do full justice to a big idea.
But in the development of thought, there is often the need for recapitulation. As fruitful as it may be, the web of many minds can become chaotic. It can fall into patterns of repetition. It can analyse endlessly and brilliantly, but it can have trouble with synthesis. There are points in the development of any argument when all concerned can benefit from a recapitulation which weighs all that has been said, sifts and sorts and synthesizes it. The recapitulation is not an end point. On the contrary, it is often a way to move the discussion forward by providing either a new point of departure or a new focus of debate.
The act of recapitulation has value for the author as well. However steeped we may be in a web of ideas, it is not until we come to set them down that we discover how they really fit together, or how they fail to connect. Recapitulation clarifies and refines the author’s thoughts even as they write them down. (It also provides a solid target to shoot at if the author fails to make the connections properly.)
Recapitulation is also useful to the learner, to the person who comes to the subject or problem long after the debate has begun. We seldom start our initiation into a subject with a program of sustained reading (thought there are exceptions to this) but after we have played around the edges for a while, we get to the point where we want to gain a broader understanding of what has been thought and said in the field, and for this purpose a recapitulation is in order. Thus after a certain period of tinkering and exploration, we reach for a book to get us more thoroughly launched into the the study of a field.
The theater used to be an almost universal medium for entertainment. Over the centuries, its prominence has been eroded by successive waves of new media. First the book, then the cinema, then television, then the Web all stole away large parts of the audience. Yet the theater did not disappear, any more than the cinema disappeared with the advent of TV, TV with the advent of the Web, or books with the advent of all of these. But what did happen was that the role of each media became more refined as new ones arose and stole part of the audience. Instead of being a universal media, each took on a more specialized role. Rather than being used for everything, each media specialized in the kinds of things it did best.
Books will not disappear in the age of hypertext and Every Page is Page One, but their role will become more refined, less general. They will be used to do the things that they are uniquely suited to do. In the case of books, the thing that the sustained narrative of a single voice is uniquely able to do is the recapitulation. The recapitulation stands neither at the beginning nor the end of the study of a subject, but it is a necessary part of the development of knowledge, and the development of students, on any subject.
The time has come, I think, for a recapitulation of Every Page is Page One. I feel the need of it anyway, and I hope others will find it useful. And since the best vehicle for a recapitulation is a book, a book is what I shall write.