Wii are Railroads

Wow: Michael Bhaskar. Someone who finally gets the tech of literature. Well, perhaps this is a bit premature; it is hard to say that any of us literary minded folk really get the technology of literature, for if we did, we would not be suffering but blossoming. Nevertheless, Mr. Bhaskar hits far closer to the mark in his blog post on the "digital team" blog over at Pan MacMillan.

Being part of the digital team, it is likely that he sees literature more as a data or a technology than simple words and ink on paper. And he proves it with his juxtaposition between the US railway industry and Nintendo. (such a mix of infrastructural and fanboy tech is certainly a good start!)

"[...] there was no fundamental problem with the railways contrasting the States with Europe, where to this day railways are thriving. Rather there was a problem with the attitudes of the railway companies. They had always seen themselves to be in the railways business and focussed their efforts as such. According to Levitt this was their mistake- had they realised from the beginning that what they were in was the transportation business they would have been much better prepared to respond to and piggyback on innovations like the car, the lorry, the highway and the airplane.

[...]Nintendo originally produced hanafuda (Japanese card games). Throughout their history though they refused to define themselves as makers of card games- they saw themselves as facilitators of play, and so had a constantly evolving product set while maintaining a consistent purpose. It meant they were always ideally positioned to exploit new advances and could comfortably react to change. Moreover it has led to them being in the vanguard of innovation; just when their competitors Sony and Microsoft were beefing up their consoles for the hardcore gamer, spending mega bucks turning games machines into omnipotent media playing nodes, Nintendo re wrote the rule book.

The DS and the Wii, with their intuitive gestural interfaces and ludic game design, perfectly fit what legendary Nintendo games designer Shigeru Miyamoto sees as the defining goal of Nintendo: to create products grandparents and grandchildren can play together. Both consoles were colossal risks for Nintendo; both paid off handsomely."

The idea that I hate hearing from publishing folk is that literature needs to find its iPod--this always follows or leads a mention of the apparent success of the Amazon Kindle. The eBook is not an iTune! This is a perfect example of false appreciation of technology. These publishers are looking to the success of the iPod, and wishing the same for their own business. They are not saying, let's make storage of books portable, easily accessible and storable, downloadable, and personal. They are saying this, but only in the context of the fact that it made Apple a shitload of money. The iPod was perfect for music, because it gave music fans the exact tools that they had been missing for years. The Walkman got them part way there, and the Discman got closer. But the iPod was perfect for the majority of consumers. And there you have it: a technological milestone was created, but only looking at it in the past, from the point of view of critical acceptance and profit.

Nobody wants these things for books. Well, okay: some people do. And all those people will buy a Kindle this year and maybe the next. But then the market will die off, for the simple fact that the Kindle does not do anything that a hardback will not do--it is only a gimmicky, electronic Norton's Anthology (albeit one with many pages). In fact, the hardback is still a better technology in some respects, the total lack of DRM being one major respect, but closely followed by exchangability and durability.

What I've been writing about is the changing face of the technology of literature, happening under our noses. Gaming has changed because the technology has developed--the idea of an asocial young man peering into a tiny screen in a basement is past. Americans may still be bowling alone, but now they are gaming together, both virtually and in person. Nintendo saw the potential in the technology, and made it happen. They did not look at another successful technology and attempt to ape their business to it. Wanna buy a hybrid-powered gaming system? I think not.

But Bhaskar is right in saying that while we shouldn't be railways, we can't really be Nintendos either. We are not 'media providers' any more than we are simply bookmakers:

"As much as we can say that we are curators of stories and information, people involved in the entertainment/education business pure and simple, we simply don’t have the scale, the expertise and the financial muscle to become full on web platforms, film studios, arts infrastructure bodies or whatever else moving beyond print matter might entail."

Yes: literature must remember what literature is. Not just books, not just entertainment, but _____. The blank there is where I did not say, "a complicated human mixture of thought and desire manifested in the semiotics of symbolic phenomenal experience." I did not say it because that sentence does not translate into literature any more than gaming translates into "a somatic expression of imagination that breaks down the boundaries between the psychological and the social realm". Literature has to find itself out, because--I will all but promise you--it will not be a philosopher that creates the literature of the digital age anymore than it will be a business person.

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