Do Real-time Digital Books Lack Intellectual Integrity?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka


By Edward Nawotka

In today’s lead story Jason Monburg says that content needs to be agile, controllable and interactive. For the most part this depends on incorporating real-time data streams — whether originating from an author or third-parties, such as outside sources or readers themselves — into a book. This idea is compelling, particularly when talking about non-fiction. A textbook on say, Middle Eastern history could be updated in real-time to reflect the political changes of the last month. But, this brings up several other challenges, especially about the integrity of such a book.

When content can be updated and added to in real-time, what you’re getting is news. Calling it a book is a misnomer that’s being used as a matter of convenience or pretense.

With a traditional text — written by an author or authors, edited and then published by a publishing house — the process itself strives to guarantee that the information has been labored over, vetted time and time again, and only published once it was deemed worthy and ready to be consumed by an audience. Once that content is is published as either a physical or digital book, the body of the work it has integrity — that it is itself a kind of whole.

Books complied in real-time lack such definition. They are, instead, dynamic. And as such, they are subject to the vagaries of groups of individuals reacting to developing stories. What’s more, these books can be altered and manipulated for whatever reason — and likely in ways that, initially, would be difficult to police.

For example, the aforementioned book on Middle Eastern history might discuss the recent political changes in Egypt, but how would it portray them? As favorable? As something to be suspicious of? Or would it merely reflect the dominant meme of the day — and then change to reflect changing sentiment.

I would argue in this case what you’re getting is news and not a book. News is, by its very nature, disposable almost instantaneously. I posit that the very idea of a book is to produce something that has the integrity to last more then 24-hours.

Tell us what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.