The iPod wasn’t the first digital music player, but that doesn’t really matter; when it was introduced in 2001, it was the first digital music player that made ordinary tech-inclined (but not necessarily tech-savvy) consumers pay attention.
I graduated from college that year, so I remember that time very well. Let’s review; Napster had been shut down. I didn’t own a DVD player. In fact, I didn’t even have my own computer. (I bought both that December.) I didn’t have a cellular phone, but some of my friends did. (In fact, I didn’t get one until 2005.) I had never used wireless internet, ever. I had bought an APS camera two years before, on study abroad. (Digital cameras cost about a kajillion dollars.) Instead of writing a blog, I kept email lists of everyone I knew and periodically quasi-spammed them with prose poems, Nietzsche quotes, outlines for essays on Bulworth (“The key to understanding Bulworth is that it’s not very good”), and news about my life. Oh, and I used telnet for email.
The time hardly seemed propitious to launch a device that would effectively break wide open handheld digital media. But that’s what happened.
It’s worth remembering this, because we’ve now had eight years of the iPod, iTunes, and the Apple Store, during which we’ve had to clear all of these technical and commercial and psychological and social hurdles to get to the devices that most of us carry around (in one version or another) every day.
What does this year’s model of the iPhone (already almost three years removed from the announcement of the first version) have in common with the first iPod? It fits in your pocket; and maybe — maybe — you still put stuff on it from your computer — to update the firmware, if nothing else.
That’s eight years of the iPod. I’m glad I saw it, because 21-year-old me wouldn’t have believed it. All the more so because none of what happened is in retrospect at all ridiculous.
Now let’s imagine twelve years of the Kindle.
Now the Kindle in 2020 might not even be the Kindle anymore. Maybe Sony or Apple or Google or Microsoft or someone we don’t even expect might shoulder Amazon aside and take center stage, or readers will be more like the smartphone market right now, with a handful of solid competitors egging each other on.
But the Kindle now, like the iPod eight years ago, is the first electronic reader that most of us tech-inclined but not tech-savvy users have paid much attention to. It’s already gotten better, it’s already spurred competition, and the chances are good that we’re going to see some significant advances in these devices before the end of the year.
In twelve years, we know electronic readers will do more, store more, work faster, look cooler, and offer more things to look at then it does now.
But what don’t we know about the Kindle 2020 yet?
Robin, Matt, and I — yes, all three of us — have proposed a presentation for South by Southwest Interactive where we — and some other supremely smart people — are going to try to figure out just that.
Here are some basic questions:
- What kind of devices will we use to read?
- What formats will be used to deliver documents?
- What kinds of documents will be “read” — text, image, video, audio, hybrids?
- How will documents be written and produced?
- How will documents be bought, sold, and otherwise supported?
- How will contributors be compensated?
- How will reading work in different industries?
And here, I think, are — for me, at least, some more interesting ones:
- What could turn an electronic reader into a totally NECESSARY device — like a mobile phone, or iPod?
- What features will the reader of 2020 have that nobody’s even talking about yet?
- What are we going to use it to do that nobody uses anything to do now?
- What’s going to be your favorite thing to read on it?
- Forget your favorite thing — what are you going to use it to do over and over again, whether you like it or not?
- How are you going to write with it?
- Who’s going to have one? How are they going to pay for it?
- How do we share what we read?
- What will we still want but not get?
- Here’s the big one: how might it change the entire FIELD of media consumption, handheld devices, computing, reading, etc… Will everything restructure itself around the reader? Or will it be a fun, handy curiosity, plotting its own logic while everything else goes along unchanged?
Beginning today, you can vote to help get this panel accepted to South By Southwest. I am way excited. First, I am a nerd for all things related to the written word. Second, Robin and Matt are the most talented futuronomists I know.
Finally, in addition to being awesome, Austin is (oddly enough) geographically centered for the three of us. If you look at our locations (Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco), Austin is the country’s fourth column, which (I think) bestows it with Penumbra-like magical powers.
Between books, papers, and screens, I think we might just have this covered. But see, this is where we start to worry about our own blind spots or idiosyncratic enthusiasms, not because we want to lose them, but because we need to put them in context.
So we don’t just need your vote. We need to know what you know. And we’re willing to use the patented Snarkmarket figure-four leg-lock — by which I mean, your comments in the thread below — to get the conversation started.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, but that’s not really true; some people remember the past better than others. The future, however, really is 20/20 (especially in 2020). Right now, we all know just as much about the future of reading as everyone else.
The only difference is that we — you and I — are focused.
What do you see?