I recently attended the Baker Book House Youth Pastors’ Breakfast. I’m not a youth pastor; I was there because I work for Baker Book House. But I still got to eat a delicious breakfast (catered by the coffee shop that will be in our store when the renovation is complete, Icons Coffee) and listen to the guest speaker, Thomas Bergler.
Bergler is associate professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University and the author of The Juvenilization of American Christianity (read the article that preceded the book here). His presentation at the breakfast was great if a little heady for eight o’clock in the morning. He went through the history of youth ministry and touched on the reasons why modern American Christianity resembles the youth rallies of yesteryear much more than the traditional models which had served for many hundreds of years. But the most interesting thing that he said, the thing that stuck in my mind, he mentioned in passing.
Bergler quoted the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan when he mentioned that “the medium is the message”. What that means is that the way that we experience a message becomes part of the message and interprets how we receive that message. A message may be something you listen to, something you read, something you watch on the big screen, the small screen, or the stage, and in each instance, though the message is the same, the reception of the message will be different. The medium leaks in.
Think of any book that has been made into a movie. When you are reading the book, your mind is free to imagine the distinct facial characteristics of the characters. When you see the movie that was based on that book, this power has been taken away from you, but you may be better able to understand another aspect of the story that wasn’t readily apparent in the book.
Recently, Andrew Rogers, an employee at a major Christian publishing house and a friend of mine, posted a video on his blog introducing some up-and-coming developments in the e-book industry by a company called IDEO. Take a minute and go watch the video. It’s pretty cool. After the video, Rogers asked the question, “Does the future of books presented here by IDEO excite you? Or not? Why?”
Since the “media is the message” concept was still fresh in my mind when I watched the video, I couldn’t help but see that this turn in the publishing industry will help users experience content in a new and entertaining way, just like the television introduced a dimension to a radio world. But just like the television and the radio, I believe that there is room in the world for both forms of publishing.
E-books in general and IDEO’s presentation in specific present us with a brand new medium for messages. This medium is more interactive than the traditional book, it’s true. But saying that one model is better than the other, placing expectations on them to perform in a certain way, is like comparing apples and oranges, and then complaining that a caramel dipped orange tastes gross.
The printed word has been around for a very long time, and I am confident that it will be long after e-books have planted the seed for the next major innovation in new mediums comes to fruition.
I am not frightened by the e-book. I am excited to see how the medium enhances the message. I would love to write a book for an interactive medium like this, but it would need to be intentional. A screenwriter for a television show writes television screenplays, he doesn’t write 800 page novels for each episode. Writers hoping to succeed in the IDEO e-book world will need to write with their medium in mind, lest their message fall flat because it could have been better as a non-gimmicky traditional book.
In conclusion, the loud voices that herald the downfall of the traditional book model in favor of the e-book remind me of the first video that MTV ever played. Sure we have music videos, but we still have radio too.