Now I know on many levels I’m not normal, but there are moments in the blogging process that just give me butterflies. Many of them occur serendipitously when I’m reading and two or three pieces of content flow up from my network that begin to click together in my brain like magnets, making connections. And at that moment, my mind starts writing, composing a post that it needs to make sense of the ideas, the patterns that seem to be emerging. I’ve come to rely on the blogging to cement together the pieces and make them more of a whole, one that I know is never fully complete, and never will be. And that’s when the butterflies come, in that moment of recognition, when things seem to make more sense. They tell me some molecules have moved, that I think I know something that I didn’t before. It’s what keeps me doing this.

Obviously, that happened just now as I was wallowing in my Google Reader (having left Bloglines far behind), reading post after post that made my brain hum with thought. But what clicked were a couple of items that just led so seamlessly one into another as I pulled them up.

The first was from if:book which is one of my favorite reads these days. Kim White writes about the coming “sea change” in terms of the structure of and reading of digital books. And much of the analysis is hung on the work of Jeff Han, whose amazing TED presentation floated up again someone’s blog a few days ago, and who was the subject of a feature in Fast Company which Tim Lauer pointed to this morning. (The picture above is a snip from another video of Jeff Han at work that’s on the FC site.) Kim’s description of how 3D, touchscreen computing will affect books is compelling:

Here’s an example of how it might work, imagine the institute’s Iraq Study Group Report in 3D. Main authors would have nodes or “homesites” close to the book with threads connecting them to sections they authored. Co-authors/commentors might have thinner threads that extend out to their, more remotely located, sites. The 3D depiction would allow readers to see “threads” that extend out from each author to everything they have created in digital space. In other words, their entire network would be made visible. Readers could know an author’s body of work in a new way and they could begin to see how collaborative works have been understood and shaped by each contributor. It would be ultimate transparency. It would be absolutely fascinating to see a 3D visualization of other works and deeds by the Iraq Study Groups’ authors, and to “see” the interwoven network spun by Washington’s policy authors. Readers could zoom out to get a sense of each author’s connections. Imagine being able to follow various threads into territories you never would have found via other, more conventional routes.

Now that would be an amazing capacity, to follow the connections and gain all sorts of context as to the authors and the ideas and their evolution. And it would demand reading skills that revolve around following connections and vetting sources in ways that would challenge our current pedagogies. Talk about active reading…

In that same vein, I’ve been spending some time clicking around Daylife, which is a newish news puller-together that looks to contextualize what’s happening in the world and connect the events to the people and the history around it. It’s not the 3-D world that Kim describes, but as I read David Weinberger’s post this morning it was clear that it’s a step in the right direction. The individual topic pages (like this one on Condoleezza Rice) are full of content…pictures, articles, people who are connected in some way, quotes, Wikipedia entries, etc. It gives the opportunity to drill further down into the information in ways that newspapers can’t. Now I know this is new, and it has a ways to go in terms of building up resources, etc. But it’s the direction I find interesting.

And it leads me to a better understanding of one of my favorite excerpts from one of my favorite articles about all of this, “Scan This Book” by Kevin Kelly:

Yet the common vision of the library’s future (even the e-book future) assumes that books will remain isolated items, independent from one another, just as they are on shelves in your public library. There, each book is pretty much unaware of the ones next to it. When an author completes a work, it is fixed and finished. Its only movement comes when a reader picks it up to animate it with his or her imagination. In this vision, the main advantage of the coming digital library is portability — the nifty translation of a book’s full text into bits, which permits it to be read on a screen anywhere. But this vision misses the chief revolution birthed by scanning books: in the universal library, no book will be an island.

Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.

Which is another vision that gives me butterflies.

In his TED presentation, Jeff Han said:

I kind of cringe at the idea that we’re going to introduce a whole new generation of people to computing with the standard mouse and Windows pointer interface. This is the way we should be interacting with machines from this point on…There’s no reason in this day and age why we should be conforming to a physical device. They should conform to us.

My question is how fast is all of this going to reach our kids…and what does it mean for our curriculum right now. These literacies aren’t necessarily new, but they are much more complex. Our younger kids, my kids, are going to need to have them. I don’t think, right now at least, most schools have much of a clue as to how to address them.


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