While Bob Stein's address on the future of the book at the Capitol on Thursday night was riveting stuff, its delivery was not without some issues - it never ceases to amaze me how MWF administrators manage to program digital publishing events in venues with no Internet access. While two years ago anyone appearing with Net-dependent stuff should have come armed to the teeth with backup plans (including the ability to use a screen set up in a tent!) it's a tad surprising in 2009 that we still need to spell this kind of thing out to festival organisers.
Is it really that hard to let a presenter on digital issues know that there are digital issues with the venue well in advance? Not only that, but as with Germaine Greer's address in this venue a year ago (not part of MWF), it was apparently not possible to have stage lights dimmed, making it hard for Stein to see his own laptop screen while presenting. I doubt the magnificence of the venue made up to him for that, if indeed he could see the damn place at all (Greer could not, and complained she could not see us several times).
Rant over. In a rather large nutshell, early work with text and video at the Voyager Company showed Stein that 'a book is a medium where the user is in control of their experience', in other words, 'user-driven media'. In the early '80s, a book was also what he described as a 'random access device' - and in that sense, without the availability to the general public of recording and rewinding tools, television was not.
In his work on the Criterion series of films recorded on laser disc for Voyager, Stein watched films and 'read' movies the way he read books, turning back and forward, stopping, repeating bits he needed to see again, developing multimedia features now common on DVD, such as director commentary.
He left Voyager in the mid-90s but was coaxed back into publishing sometime in the 'noughties, eventuating in the development of the annotating tools and projects for which he is best known.