Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Print is changing

The Futurist magazine ran a series of articles on post-print literacy. Since some of the futurists they quote have been calling for the "death of print" for 30 years, I take these predictions with a fat old chunk of salt. However, the ways that print is changing, and the new media literacies that will be needed, are fascinating to think about in a social change context.

For example, tracking data is a tough proposition when working in populations where illiteracy is the norm. However, mobile phones may change this. As mobile access increases, and as the handsets become useful for everything from video to banking, the need to read may morph into a need to "read" visually. Imagine you were distributing health products in rural parts of Africa. Rather than writing and counting and filing reports, you could use a cellphone camera, take a picture of a sale, send it to a protected website where a pre-loaded inventory of tagged "item photos" would check the items in the photo, deduct them from inventory, calculate the sale, register the prices, order new stock and so on.

Another way that print is changing, and media and media companies are changing, is in the way we think of books. I wrote earlier about a book 'being a wiki at a point in time' and plenty of folks quickly sent me examples. The Institute for the Future of the Book posts about major publishing houses, Random House and HarperCollins, letting browsers search backlists and the content of the books on the backlist. Random House also offers a widget that will let you put this search function for your favorite book on your website.

So what for philanthropy? This slices a couple of ways:
  • What about making this kind of functionality available on research and data that foundations use?
  • Or if nonprofits and/or donors posted their reviews of certain social issues, community needs, organizations, or evaluation studies?
  • How about a complete rethink of what literacy means, who is and isn't literate in new media, how schools need to change?
  • What about a new proposal process that isn't text-based, but multi-media, multi-literacy, and globally accessible?
Just a thought.

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