Business Models, Part 2: The Seven Stages of Technology

I recently posted a topic on how libraries may be developing a market niche based on an outdated business model. I found two interesting works related to that. The first is The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, the second is a presentation by Richard Baranniuk. Both authors are well renowned in their fields. Kurzweil is a researcher on the progression of technology, and a futurist, while Baraniuk is an electrical engineering professor at Rice. Kurzweil discusses the impending demise of the book, while Baraniuk discusses the failures of the publishing industry.

In his book, Kurzweil outlines the stages of technology, which are: precursor, invention, development, maturity, pretenders, and obsolescence, and antiquity (p. 19). He gave the following example:

"Another example is the print book, a rather mature technology today. It is now in the stage of the pretender. Lacking resolution, contrast, lack of flicker, and other visual qualities of paper and ink, the current generation of virtual books does not have the capability of displacing paper based publications. Yet this victory...will be short lived as future generations of computer displays succeed in providing a fully satisfactory alternative to paper."(p. 20)

Dr. Baraniuk gave a presentation at TED entitled Good Bye, Textbooks, Hello Open Source Learning (By the way, I highly recommend going through this site. The speakers are A++). Towards the end of his speech, he basically said that the publishing industry is outdated and the biggest impediment to the dissemination of knowledge.

I think Baraniuk's presentation has immediate relevance, while Kurzweil is more of a 20-30 year thinker. Despite their differences, both authors posit interesting theories. It would be interesting to continue our previous discussion keeping in mind what they have said, and perhaps find some rebuttals to flesh out our arguments a bit more.

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I've not been in school for a while, but my niece (just turned 15 on Monday) doesn't carry around textbooks. Instead, she logs into the publisher's password-protected website, where there's a interactive learning experience. Students have the ability to select text, take notes, view videos, see information presented in a variety of ways, etc. Why buy a $200 textbook when you can get it on the web?

For so many years, the textbook industry was a major force in publishing. Now it's migrating to the web, and foreshadows a great change in publishing.

Frankly, I don't see casual reading on the web, except for brief periods. Some people like lugging around their laptops - I hate it. When I read Proust, I want to be able to relax my body in all sorts of ways, and usually the most comfortable is a horizontal position. Unless you can make a pc that weighs no more than the book and is less klutzy, it won't be worth it. (Although it would be great to enlarge the fonts.)

Nice post, Mark, as always.
Bob makes a good point when he brings up physical comfort. The debate on e-books is so often couched (har har) in terms of screen issues; what about the overall experience? The haptic dimension (thanks Future of the book)
As for publishing, well, we can see that different sectors require a different approach. Various things I've read have indicated textbooks as a key area for e-book/online text market development. 'Casual' reading is still best served by physical books, as for most people being able to 'interact' with them (tagging etc) is less important than just reading them.
And the book has never been a static medium anyways.
I am a bit of an optimist when it comes to technology. I think we will see the emergence of a technology that makes e-reading very enjoyable. I can't say when, but I think within 10 years. Just imagine a set of glasses that project the words on a nice screen right in front of your eyes. You can lay back and read without holding your arms up to your face. You can keep them by your side and flip a page with the click of a button! (OK, maybe that is a bit far fetched, but I think it will happen)
Hm, what about those of us whose apartments are wall-to-wall books, cds, and videos? the only blank area I have is the door. :) But I get your point. Perhaps holographic screens (which I've seen in a museum somewhere) - cube-like objects you can have in the middle of the room that appear translucent but on which you can view a projected video.



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