Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Diving into a Digital Universe - Part 3

When my father first picked up a Kindle, I genuinely didn't think he'd take to it so effortlessly. He adapted remarkably quickly and was inspired enough to re-read Anna Karenina because it suddenly seemed lighter in many aspects. This was a fairly revelatory moment for me, and one that made me rethink my own sceptical and narrow attitude towards digital reading. 

Then again, the Kindle has a rosy reputation for being a dream in any reader's eyes. So let's talk Smartphones, a far more affordable option and as a result, much more widely used. In a recent report shared by Publishing Technology, they have explained why a large population of Smartphone users have turned away from reading on their devices. Their finding is that the most significant barrier to greater mobile reading is poor user-experience. Although the study is set in the US and UK, this remains a relevant insight for publishers, booksellers and e-reading platform providers in other countries as well, and certainly something they should not be dismissing easily.


In this current state of transition in reading, it is interesting to see how diverse sets of users are responding and adapting. My aunt's cook had recently added me as a Friend on Facebook and I was mildly surprised (not to be patronizing) at the number of Tamil articles that he had been sharing. 

As renowned author Margaret Atwood rightly said in an interview last year: “One of the things the Internet does do is that it drives towards literacy. You have to be able to read and write to use it. And cheap cell phones have enabled information exchange in an unprecedented way. So you may not have a library or a bookstore or even a school, but most villages now have at least one cell phone. Farmers in remote areas can use it to track marketplaces; people are doing banking on their phones.” Atwood – aged 75 – has been called by The Guardian as “literature’s digital doyenne”. Apart from interacting regularly with her readers through Twitter, she has contributed stories to innovative digital platforms such as Wattpad and Byliner.

While there are authors like Atwood who have been early adopters of technology, there are plenty of others who are apprehensive about the integration of reading and technology. In this third installment of 'Diving into a Digital Universe', we continue with asking creators of children's stories in India how they feel about the steadily changing form of the book and whether this has altered their creative processes. Here's what they had to say:

Nandini Nayar, Author

Like everyone who has grown up reading proper books, I viewed the digital texts with suspicion, certain that they would never catch on or replace books. But with the passage of time I find that I am open to new ways of reading texts. So yes, I can see myself reading digital books.

As a writer the ‘eureka’ moment of finding a great idea remains as magical and unchanged in the digital age as in the past. The only difference and challenge lies in adapting the story effectively for the digital medium. I have written stories for mobile phone apps and find that I have to learn a whole new set of dos and donts while doing this. These rules are not big or scary enough to interfere with the actual process of writing. They are just markers of a new territory that I have to keep in mind. In many cases I have found that the digital medium adds to the basic story, since it provides opportunities for noises and other such details to be included in the story.

Check out Nandini Nayar's book 'When Amma Went to School'

Priya Kuriyan, Illustrator

Surprisingly, I've not as yet illustrated for something that was envisioned specifically and solely as a children's e-book. Perhaps, this is because a lot of publishers in India convert what was meant as a traditional physical book into a PDF and then sell them online as e-books. There are no interactive features in the book. Therefore, as an illustrator, the work is not very different and I would imagine that even as a reader, the experience wouldn't be very different. (This might not hold good for older readers who read books without illustrations.)

However, when a children's book is specifically designed to be an e-book, with interactive illustrations and experiments with narrative structures, I would imagine the illustrator's creative process - in terms of the way they plan the book – to be different. The size of one's canvas would vary within a story and one is not restricted to the same proportions of a traditional book through the entire story. While illustrating traditional picture books, 'page turns' are considered very important, while in an e-book, that aspect is replaced by other more film-like techniques like zoom-ins and transitions. So I guess the process of visualising it would differ considerably. Also, what one creates on screen is the final product. So, the entire aspect of colour-correcting, worrying about paper quality, etc, wouldn't be part of the process. 

I feel that the e-book and physical book are two entirely different products - which is why one won't replace the other - and there is a different kind of pleasure in consuming each of these.

Check out Priya Kuriyan's illustrations in 'Susheela's Kolam', 'Peacocks and Pakodas!', 'Everything Looks New!', 'Lassi, Ice-cream or Falooda?', 'Hot Tea and Warm Rugs' and 'Kheer on a Full Moon Night'.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 in the 'Diving into a Digital Universe' series. And read about Pratham Books' journey into the digital universe.

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