A few months ago, I wrote about the workplace of the future and quite a number of opinion leaders in Nigeria’s ICT industry commended the article. But beyond that, a few people wrote to express their concern about how Nigeria would compete favourably in this place I called “Workplace 2.0”! My answer was simple: “While the work towards Nigeria’s eReadiness continues, you should be very concerned about your own personal eReadiness. Get up from your lame corner and step up to the reality of a digital present — not even future.”
A few webpages after that article, I came across what may go on to be described as the greatest revolution of our lifetime. many have argued that the book is not a technology gadget and so can’t be replaced. The argument goes, “… we may have online editions of newspapers and eBooks, but the book has come to stay and can’t have a rival even with the best of technologies.” Really? I don’t think so. And my reason is not based on the fact that Jeff Bezos is now sounding the warning alarm on the end of books, but because anything that the mind of man can play on can be done. You would agree with me that a few years before the Wright brothers, anyone who was told about airplanes would smile (remember that smile that comes to your face along with the feeling of “impossible”?). And so would anyone who was told many years before the PC that we would one day have gadgets that can fit in your palms and do what only mainframes could attempt!
In a 7-page report on Newsweek with Reinventing the Book as its title, and an appropriate tagline, “A Man of Letters: Amazon’s Bezos wants to change the way we read,” we are taken through a thoughtful expression that has clicked on the button of change again. Jeff Bezos, 43, had this to say:
The book just turns out to be an incredible device… Books are the last bastion of analog, music and video have been digital for a long time, and short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn’t. If you’re going to do something like [Book 2.0], you have to be as good as the book in a lot of respects. But we also have to look for things that ordinary books can’t do.
The Newsweek report announced that:
This week Bezos is releasing the Amazon Kindle, an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. That’s shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. The Kindle represents a milestone in a time of transition, when a challenged publishing industry is competing with television, Guitar Hero and time burned on the BlackBerry; literary critics are bemoaning a possible demise of print culture, and Norman Mailer’s recent death underlined the dearth of novelists who cast giant shadows. On the other hand, there are vibrant pockets of book lovers on the Internet who are waiting for a chance to refurbish the dusty halls of literacy… Bounding to a whiteboard in the conference room, [Jeff] ticks off a number of attributes that a book-reading deviceâ€”yet another computer-powered gadget in an ever more crowded backpack full of themâ€”must have. First, it must project an aura of bookishness; it should be less of a whizzy gizmo than an austere vessel of culture. Therefore the Kindle (named to evoke the crackling ignition of knowledge) has the dimensions of a paperback, with a tapering of its width that emulates the bulge toward a book’s binding. It weighs but 10.3 ounces, and unlike a laptop computer it does not run hot or make intrusive beeps.
A reading device must be sharp and durable, Bezos says, and with the use of E Ink, a breakthrough technology of several years ago that mimes the clarity of a printed book, the Kindle’s six-inch screen posts readable pages. The battery has to last for a while, he adds, since there’s nothing sadder than a book you can’t read because of electile dysfunction. (The Kindle gets as many as 30 hours of reading on a charge, and recharges in two hours.) And, to soothe the anxieties of print-culture stalwarts, in sleep mode the Kindle displays retro images of ancient texts, early printing presses and beloved authors like Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen. But then comes the features that your mom’s copy of “Gone With the Wind” can’t match. E-book devices like the Kindle allow you to change the font size: aging baby boomers will appreciate that every book can instantly be a large-type edition. The handheld device can also hold several shelves’ worth of books: 200 of them onboard, hundreds more on a memory card and a limitless amount in virtual library stacks maintained by Amazon. Also, the Kindle allows you to search within the book for a phrase or name. Some of those features have been available on previous e-book devices, notably the Sony Reader. The Kindle’s real breakthrough springs from a feature that its predecessors never offered: wireless connectivity, via a system called Whispernet. (It’s based on the EVDO broadband service offered by cell-phone carriers, allowing it to work anywhere, not just Wi-Fi hotspots.) As a result, says Bezos, “This isn’t a device, it’s a service.”
So, watch out for Book 2.0 and note that this is just one of the many areas that the mind will bring to life. And if reading about these new technologies and their related services make you feel like this is a dream of sorts, my advice would be that you don’t waste time trying to wake up… because this is reality. That accepted, the question should now be: “what role do I play in this non-dream?” As a user, developer, policy maker or enthusiast, it’s important to step back and clarify the role you will play in all this. While many are still trying to understand what came to be in the early ’80s, the late years of the first decade of the 21st century have some new additions they’re bringing to the table! Step up your game, lay your hands on the tools and principles that define the New Economy — or go to bed and dream about the scary details of how unfit you will be when you eventually decide to wake up.