ebook: is it a book?

"It's probably not even a book," one Emily Carr design student shared, during last week's briefing on the power and potential of the ebook. As a content partner and SIM centre collaborator, I'd been invited to attend Jonathan Aitken's upper-level design class to discuss a larger ebook research/production project. The first meeting was about learning from the students' research. The content people (writers, editors, curators from the different organizations attached to specific book/ebook translation projects) circulated through five working groups. Each group had looked at the technical and design aspects of ebooks, and they discussed interactivity, user-generated content, device integration, usability, translation, annotation etc. The experience was thoroughly engaging. It left me to ponder the what, how and why of my particular e/book. Working with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (ahf.org), I am helping to facilitate the translation or recreation of their 3 Volume Truth and Reconciliation Research Series into ebook form. As someone who helpe with the design of Volume 3: Cultivating Canada: Through the Lens of Cultural Diversity (downloadable pdf) and a subsequent redesign of Volumes 1 & 2, I have a great deal of respect for the material and for the AHF mandate to distribute the work for free—to anyone/anywhere. The translation of these 3 Volumes into an ebook form makes a great deal of sense. Yet, I'm somewhat troubled by the potential of the technology to overwrite or override the literature. It struck me that while social media might be extremely useful in sharing dialogue and spreading the word, it needs to be carefully handled to avoid denigrating the reading experience. Social media buzzes, tweets, bings into our lives. As it does, it is harder and harder to carve out the time for careful, quiet reading. On the hand, the book is a machine that has the power to create spaces for quiet reflection and deep thought. The book is already an immersive technology that can transport us from the noise of everyday life. So is an ebook a book? The jury is out and I'm looking forward to learning more from the design teams as the project develops. Secretly, I hope that the answer is a bit of yes and a bit of no. I'm hoping my engagement with Mobility Shifts, which is billed as An International Future of Learning Summit, will be instructive and I attempt think through the transformational potentials (and pitfalls) of new digital forms.

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