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Editing for Three-Dimensional Reading

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:25 PM

Start getting used to this new paradigm. The game has already begun.

By Robert M. Sacks

I read a quote recently that got me thinking about the role of editors today. It is by Bertrand Russell, who said, "The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it."

Sometimes it is the simplest of things that are the hardest to grasp, perhaps because they are, well, so obvious that once you see them, you can't for the life of you understand why you never noticed them before.

The idea that the new models of publishing -- the evolving Internet and information distribution itself -- are still very much in their infancy is the least complex. Yet I find that many people for whatever reason are reluctant to accept it.

A sports metaphor that I wish I wrote states that with all the changes, angst, redevelopment, and redeployment that the editing profession has gone through in the last 10 years, "it is barely the top of the first inning and there is only one out." Are you ready to accept that simple and obvious statement?

Every day, broadband gets more ubiquitous with an increased ability to deliver globally. Concurrent with the large digital pipelines for delivery is the development of superior substrates. The mechanics and complexities of iPad-like devices are also in their infancy. Heck, the iPad has barely passed its first birthday. We have yet to experience the beauty and versatility of reflective full-color e-readers. In all likelihood these will be delivered this year. And then what? Does anyone really think we are finished with revolutionary technological progress? The truth, as trite as it sounds, is we can only expect the unexpected.

Another common and simple misunderstanding is about the volume of material out there for the general consumer. It is usually perceived as being just too much. But, no, actually it isn't. We are only going to have more and more information available to us, at any time, in any place of our choosing.

Gutenberg started this democratization of knowledge, and the current technologies have taken that concept and process to the 10th power. Today's Internet-connected reader may absorb less specific data and less detail from an increasingly larger reservoir. But more material is available than ever before, and our readers know that they have the wealth of the ages at their fingertips at a moment's notice. This has caused a very subtle social change that is often missed unless you step back for a panoramic moment to view our current media-enriched society. This still-evolving change is all about knowledge.

It is now far more important to know how to search for a fact than to actually know a fact.

That societal awareness changes everything. It changes the way our children view the world, and it may change the way we look at our children. They are the offspring of linear parents.

We grew up reading books left right from the top of the page to the bottom. It is my contention that, because of the new and still-developing hyperlinked-media-delivery system in place and still morphing before our very eyes, our children will have the capacity to think in 3D. Yes, they can be reading and clicking hither and yon, while learning and jumping from topic to topic in a system that linear people of the old world can never truly understand.

They are born with this as their natural language, while we are digital immigrants with an immigrant's accent and the immigrant's difficulty in understanding the nuances of the new "country" we are living in.

Our children no longer have to memorize and know things by rote, because they can look up anything in seconds. And the information they can gather can be as complex and detailed or as simple as the situation demands.

So, in a strange way, knowing less is a defense to the total saturation of available information that surrounds us. Is it possible that what some pundits call "increased attention deficit disorder" is a skill set that is actually a newly acquired and underappreciated ability to survive the new media's continued overload?

We editors have the brightest of futures before us, and this is just the beginning: it is only one out, and a whole game is before us.

Robert M. Sacks is editor of Heard on the Web, a daily publishing industry e-newsletter (www. bosacks.com), and is president of The Precision Media Group.

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"Einstein was asked how many feet were in a mile. He responded he had no idea, why should his brain retain a fact he could easily look up? The mind is for thinking. I think his immigration papers came early!" --Elizabeth Bleu, Editor, ACR. 8-30-2011

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