2016 Technology News In Review

Kristen McLeanNeil De YoungJane FriedhoffMichael Greer


“Progress” is supposed to be a given in modern human society. We expect our technology to advance, year over year, and for maintaining that pace, we rely on Moore’s Law. In other words, last year’s model is always obsolete.

One way to distinguish 21st century technology over that of other eras is that processing power is personal power. Throughout the 20th century, freedom of the press belonged to those who owned one. In 2016, citizen-journalists and citizen-publishers have ascended. The transformation of communication is hardly complete, though. As I learned over the last twelve months, progress is not a straight line

When students fan out on campus for class, chances are good they aren’t carrying laptops but smartphones instead – and they aren’t alone in looking to the ubiquitous devices to enhance learning. Faculty, too, have high hopes for handhelds .

Educator and editor Michael Greer, a frequent guest on Beyond the Book, says if we are ever going to make learning mobile, we must first rethink learning. Greer teaches online courses in editing and publishing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is editor for the journal Research in Online Literacy Education. In a blog post for the Textbook & Academic Authors Association, he argued that “technology should serve learning, not drive it.”

In journalism, digital technology, with its capacity for two-way interaction, is also driving a transformation in the relationship between readers and reporters. Communities and conversations form naturally around digital journalism. Mostly, though, they are confined to comment sections on news sites. Journalists and audience today are only just shouting at each other. A game designer, creative researcher, and experimental programmer, Jane Friedhoff developed an interactive journalism model while working as a creative technologist at the New York Times R&D Lab. Her work there and elsewhere experiments with media forms to create new, unusual, and even playful relationships between people.

Think like a startup, act like a mature business. It’s the trick that publishing houses around the world want to master. Neil De Young is executive director of Hachette Digital, Inc., where he is responsible for managing digital content development and operations, including for interactive ebooks and direct-to-consumer ecommerce. In 2016, “trade” book publishing relies less and less on the trade, and more on developing closer relationship with readers. To get there often requires publishing practices that emulate software development, De Young told me when we met last summer at the Yale Publishing Course, where we both were guest lecturers.

From a resplendent summer’s day on the Ivy League campus of Yale in New England, I traveled south in late fall to the Miami Book Fair, the largest event on the national publishing calendar that is open to the general public. For a weekend in November, the campus at Miami Dade College becomes a hive for readers of all ages and in many languages.

At Beyond the Book, we try to explore new territories in writing and reading that make use of technology, the product of human imagination and invention. It’s a remarkable journey that began 8,000 years ago when Sumerians etched the first pictographs in moist clay with a sharpened reed stylus.

Today, digital technology makes possible reading and writing, of course, as well as the sharing of that self-expression to a global audience. We read books – we probably always will – and we read on a smart phone or a laptop, or, an e-reader. The rise of these devices presents a fascinating, perplexing challenge for reading and for books. All at once the books moves from the printed page to a screen, placing it next to every other media.

Kristen McLean is Director of New Business Development at Nielsen Book, part of Nielsen Entertainment. She’s a 20-year veteran of the publishing industry, and lectures extensively on issues facing the publishing world, including the effect of technology and culture on books and reading, and the role of book stores and libraries in the lives of 21st century readers. She was eager to dispel for our Miami Book Fair audience the technophile myth that “Print is Dead.”

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