Wired Pursuits

Archive for March 2011

It appears as a culture we may have a very short digital memory. This morning I was listening to a story on NPR about “new” app books for children. “There’s a whole new way to read your kids to sleep these days” the story begins. It goes on to describe eBooks that read to your kids, highlight words as they are spoken, include animation, and “interactive features” where kids can touch a picture to hear what it is or see it animate and even hear the book in a different language.

I agree that this is a cool idea. Actually back 1989 when this concept first emerged it was cool too. I guess my surprise at the story was how this concept was being portrayed as novel. These eBooks are really “something entirely different” the story continues.

Sure the touch component and portability that comes with iPads is new. That certainly makes these books more accessible, but the concept of interactive books for children that are designed to help them learn to read and interact with characters and objects on the page isn’t. Back in the day they were called “living books.”

One of my kid’s favorite was “Just Grandma and Me” but there were many to choose from.  These living books (CD-ROMs) were totally engaging and even had little hidden fun thing the kids could look for. Of course she used a mouse and by today’s standards an ancient bulky desktop computer (complete with upgraded graphics card I might add). I have to admit that sometimes I just wanted to play with them myself.

I find it interesting that the iPad is being viewed as an entirely new medium. It is revolutionary in terms of mobility and the gestural interface, but we need to give credit to the really smart instructional designers, graphic artists, and programmers who came before and truly conceived of “something entirely different.” Not to mention the fact these people were working with many more constraints in terms of computing, graphic output, and programming tools.

I think I’ll call my daughter and ask her if she remembers these books. My guess is she will.

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Title: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Author: Steven Johnson

Pub Date: 2010

Excellent look at ideation and the development of ideas over time. Both theoretical and practical.

Key to Johnson’s discussion is the concept of the “adjacent possible.” Simply put, like ideas tend to cluster together. When you bring different clusters together you benefit from ideas in adjacent groups. Ideas bleed into adjacent  groups, or spillover, and generate new ideas.

Johnson also debunks the notion of the “eureka moment.” Instead, Johnson shows that new innovative ideas are often born of long held hunches. Those hunches that ruminate in the back of your mind for weeks, months, and even years.

According to Johnson, “the secret to organizational inspiration is to build information networks that allow hunches to persist and disperse and recombine.” By creating high density liquid networks, organizations make is easier for innovation to happen.

But don’t take my word for it, hear Johnson describe where good ideas come from in his own words.


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