Wednesday, August 31, 2011

e-books begin to mutate...

a good piece by Harry Mount on :

The last bastion of silence in Britain has been breached. As today’s Telegraph reports, publishers are now producing the first “enhanced e-books”, where soundtracks are provided along with the text. The first one, The Adventures of the Speckled Band, a Sherlock Holmes story, came out last week, complete with driving rain, thunderclaps and blood-curdling screams.
Perhaps the most powerful advantage a book has over any other medium is in sparking and expanding the imagination. When you read, you fill in the gaps – your own internal soundtrack, how things look, how the emotions feel. Soundtracks are that much more prescriptive and precise, with little room left for your brain to improvise. Your own inner version of a scream may be that much more blood-curdling than the one laid down in the sound studio.
Eventually, if enough effects are added to a book, it stops being a book. Throw in a soundtrack and it becomes a radio play; add images on top, and it’s a film.
Booktrack, the people behind this venture, suggest that soundtracks improve literacy and something they call reader retention. Underlying that suggestion is the idea that books are essentially dull things that need to be given all sorts of bells and whistles to catch the attention of the ADHD generation.
Well, if people don’t want to read books, that’s their prerogative. But there’s no reason on earth why books should have to prostitute themselves as something shiny, gaudy and ultra-relevant, in order to please people who don’t like reading them in the first place.
And that’s without thinking of the new, fresh Hell that will come with people reading soundtracked books in public. It used to be the case that the one bit of the train where you could be guaranteed a quiet journey was where people were reading books and newspapers. No more.
Of course people can listen to these things on headphones, not that that doesn’t stop the hiss of the blood-curdling scream seeping through the carriage. And, more and more, I’ve noticed, people don’t bother with headphones on trains as they play their electronic games or watch their DVDs; the same will happen with these new books.
There are few moments when the brain is so receptive as when it is engaged in silent absorption from the page (printed or electronic); any added effects are a demeaning detraction from that precious process.

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