Not Another Revolution?

iBook Author on Mac

iBook Author on Mac - image via

There are a number definitions to the word “revolution”. There’s the Arab Spring kind, “an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed”, where people get hurt; there’s the “sudden, complete or marked change in something” kind; and then, like the flared jeans I’m wearing, there’s the “same crap coming around again” kind.

The release of Apple’s iBook Author is unlikely to overthrow a government – or is it? The jury appears to be still debating whether technology in the form of social media was responsible for what’s happening in the Middle East: Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? Maybe you subscribe to the Malcolm Galdwell view: Small Change. Why the revolution will not be tweeted. As in all things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

The release of iBook Author, the evolving functionality of the iTunesU platform and version 2 of the iBook format (reported here) demonstrate Apple’s intent to create a revolution in the Education text book market even though it appeared the jury was out for Steve Jobs who, before he died, was “somewhat dismissive of the idea that technology could transform education…”. Said Jobs:

“I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.”

What’s Wrong With Education Cannot Be Fixed with Technology – The Other Steve Jobs January 17, 2012. Tim Carmody.

He went to say that it’s largely a political problem, but what Apple have done is provide tools and a framework that targets that system. Apple can’t fix Education but they can improve matters in an area that they do have expertise – even if its just to alleviate the increase in back problems for kids due to the loss of lockers and the increase in large printed books.

I have two teenage daughters, (its always startling to see that statement in print, ‘cos it means it must be true), who are in the public school system, which fortunately is very good where I live. They have solid grades – manifested in the iPhone 4S’s that they own, but its clear that the system is there to teach them rather than educate them. I’ve come to terms with this because it is what it is, and as long as they are succeeding in that system, its all good.

For me, coming to terms with it is to see it as a challenge, while they might be taught at school, they have to be educated at home. Outside of helping with the homework, this is the art and music lessons they have, the rock band they joined, the telescope on the deck, the “you can watch TV, if its Educational” refrain, instilling a desire to want to learn stuff, more engaging ways to learn that stuff and taking education to them on their terms – which right now is their iPhone. Anything that helps create engaging educational experiences on that platform gets my vote.

In a 1996 interview with Jobs, ostensibly about Apple’s Web Objects technology, Wired reported:

“The new Steve Jobs scoffs at the naïve idealism of Web partisans who believe the new medium will turn every person into a publisher. … The implicit message of the Macintosh, as unforgettably expressed in the great “1984” commercial, was Power to the People. Jobs’s vision of Web objects serves a different mandate: Give the People What They Want.”

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing Wired Magazine. Gary Wolf. Feb 1996.

Some of my best friends are Web Partisans. Actually, depending on your definition of publishing, all my friends are Web Partisans, with the possible exception of my mum, but she now has an iPhone 4S too, so its only a matter of time before she will become one. Ironically Apple is now doing its best to turn us into accomplished e-book partisans. I’ve spent the last few days messing around with iBook Author, (you’ll need Mac OS X Lion) and like my third definition of Revolution, it was déjà vu all over again.

Depending on how long you’ve been doing “web stuff”, iBook Author reminds of the early days of the web when everyone was a web designer creating their own aesthetically abusive websites. Fortunately, I haven’t been able to find the equivalent of blinking text (<blink></blink>) in iBook Author, but I’m sure I can quite easily abuse the sensibilities of many book designers – the app is way too easy to use. According to Apple’s website:

“iBooks Author is an amazing new app that allows anyone to create beautiful Multi-Touch textbooks — and just about any other kind of book — for iPad. With galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, these books bring content to life in ways the printed page never could.”

Yeah, that’s gonna be a problem… Its bad enough that every museum director thinks they are a web designer, now they’ll think they are an e-book designer too. Excessive and overly-designed e-books coming to a tablet near you.

Nevertheless, I’m in favor of anything that puts richer and more engaging educational content in front of kids, and maybe I can educate my daughters on great e-book design with compelling examples of how to, as well as how not to, do it. I applaud Apple’s commitment to Education which has been clearly demonstrated over the years, but let’s not forget they are a company about step into what is conservatively regarded to be an $8 billion dollar market, and which is less about the long tail and more about bulk contracts for the 50 million K-12 students in public schools in the U.S.

“The heart of the Web, he said, will be commerce, and the heart of commerce will be corporate America serving custom products to individual consumers.”

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing Wired Magazine. Gary Wolf. Feb 1996.

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