“Make Your Own”, Worth it?

There is a new e-book in town produced from a partnership with Google’s Creative Lab, and Visual Editions.  In this book readers get to decide their own fate.  Well, what they will be spending their time reading about anyways.  Clicking in different directions when prompted, readers make decisions at various junctions throughout their reading experience that craft different story paths.  They have such a hand in deciding what their literary experience is going to be, that the book almost becomes the readers personal narrative.  In fact, these books are intended to be impossible to print.  They exist only in the digital, as the digital form allows the books to mold to their readers in real time.


This is all well and good, the create-your-own, but isn’t there value in having the reader try to fit his or her understanding of what’s going on, into the author’s set plot?  Doesn’t the author have a role to play in brining the reader outside of their comfort zone, into narratives that are odd, or in some way thought provoking?  If we are making our own narrative, are we incubating ourselves in an artistic safe space that leaves us neautral and unchanged?  Then, what about the critical reception of these kinds of books?  In fact, could they even ever be criticized?  And I don’t mean criticized in that they are talked about poorly; I mean they they are able to be discussed with a critical mind.  What I remember from my school years is largely related to reading between the lines, deciphering plots, trying to understand the why and how of character actions and settings.  I was trying to be critical about the book, as it was in one form, in order to find deeper themes and meanings.  If all of this is now up for grabs so to speak, what are these digital books teaching us?  What is our “take away?”


Luckily for me, as I continued reading the article about these new literary aliens, my concerns were addressed head on.  About this e-book (Entrances & Exits) the article states “comparing it to a typical publishing process is kind of futile.  Entrances & Exits is not going to be the nextMoby Dick or To Kill a Mockingbirdor even Girl on the Train—but it’s also not trying to be. From the beginning, Editions at Play set out to build something separate from the conventional print book all together.”  Phew.


Entrances & Exits suggests that the voice, the leader, the one calling the shots for the kind of information being absorbed, changes.  It goes from the author to the viewer.  Like art for the people, by the people.  This is where my mind skipped to museum exhibitions.  Exhibitions are narrative plots, like reading a book just through images placed into spaces through which you physically have to move.  Who calls the shots in museums exhibitions?  Who gets to decide the level of detail, and more importantly which details, get incorporated about the works in the exhibition?  As of now, the main answer to this is the curator.  The one who has studied the material, and is a scholar of the art historical canon.  Now lets apply the e-book theory to museums.  What if each museum exhibition didn’t have just one narrative, but instead five or six?  What if as you walked through a museum exhibition, as you liked or disliked a work of art, as you responded to one piece of information more than another, you would be accordingly directed to another work?  What if each reaction you had to a work would trigger some kind of guide for where your eyes fell next, or what connection your brain made?  All of this would be tailor made to you and your preferences.


Don’t get me wrong.  We absolutely need curators.  There is a lot of stuff out there that has to be paired down.  But, the entry points into art are different for every person.  How can museums cater to this?  There is so much information coded into exhibitions, unlocking it all at once is not only hard, but overwhelming to the visitor.  Yes there are tour guides; yes there are family and school programs, and weekend festivals, and panel discussions surrounding exhibitions.  But what about that casual visitor passing through town curious to learn something new, and have themselves look at “weird” stuff to see if they “get it”.  Or, just somebody looking to experience something foreign?  What if all the information in an exhibition could be released to someone like this according to exactly what he or she was wondering at the moment?  Is there a way to real-time course-direct visitors through the exhibition to craft the version of the exhibition, the string of facts and tid-bits, which would most inspire them?  Maybe a make your own e-book could the launch pad for a make-your-own exhibition.


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