Modes of writing

I’ve written before about how the word “ebook” marks our as yet tentative embrace of the new medium. Ebooks are a kind of new incunabula—prototypes for the next phase of reading device that has yet to be defined, but which I expect will depart further from the printed book than the current ebooks do.

Right now, ebooks are a byproduct of paper books; the distribution and publishing process is identical, while the reading experience differs only slightly. The current crop of ebooks takes advantage of the digital format in as much as they permit you to carry more of them around than you could before; but other elements of the medium—the “hyper” part of hypertext—are noticeably absent.

Let’s presume that won’t last, that books will evolve to be native to the web. (Craig Mod shows us the way forward.) But if the book morphs from ink on paper to HTML (as I hope it does) what then will distinguish it from other kinds of writing? How will a book be different than a blog? Do we need to distinguish it at all?

When I first started blogging, I told myself it was ok to post half-formed thoughts; a blog was ephemeral, reactive—the medium cared not so much about completeness as about timeliness. I still believe that to be true, but with one important modification: it’s not that a blog post has permission to be rough so much as that roughness is its natural state. Meaning, blogging encourages exploration and experimentation. In this way, blogging is the kind of writing authors have done for centuries but which usually remained hidden away.

On the contrary, a book is the culmination of this writing: it’s what emerges after years of scratching around the same topic, when all the little pieces start to come together. Where the blog suggests paths, the book draws conclusions. Neither is superior to the other; rather, they represent different modes of writing—the first expansive, the latter convergent. Each mode suggests and learns from the other. And this is why, even if the form of the book perishes, the writing therein may survive—even if it happens on a blog.