Despite all of the advances of on-screen entertainment, from Netflix to Kindle, there are a lot of people who prefer to buy physical books. But Ambient Literature wants to change that and get people turning to their screens to read books.
The project, a collaboration between the U.K. universities UWE Bristol, Bath Spa University, and the University of Birmingham, Ambient Lit uses GPS and weather data to adapt to the user’s environment. The goal is to create an immersive experience that books just can’t match (apparently).
“We’re living in a phase where visual media is so readily available to us and visual media is so seductive for us,” says Kate Pullinger, an author who worked on a mobile-first ghost story called Breathefor Ambient Lit. “Part of what I’m interested in is what does it mean to read on screen in this world we live in that’s dominated by visual media. What kind of reading experience might be native to the smartphone in a way that just sticking an e-book on your phone isn’t?”
Open up the link to Breathe–which recommends you use a smartphone to read it–and the page will ask for your permission to use information like your location and your camera. When you agree, it uses three different data sets to personalize the story to your setting every time you read it: location, weather, and season. When you read the story on a rainy Monday in New York City, that’s referenced in the story.
Ambient Literature commissioned two other stories besides Pullinger’s, both of which take the form of apps. One, It Must Have Been Dark by Then by Duncan Speakman, combines a physical book with audio–which people listen to via an app–and incorporates the reader’s geographical surroundings into the story. The other, The Cartographer’s Confession by James Atlee, can only be experienced in London, and combines audio with historical photos. Both utilize location data to create different kinds of stories that adapt to the reader–a stark contrast to traditional novels that ask readers to engage in their fictional world.
Other features of the smartphone besides location data can find their way into the story, too: Another thriller Pullinger wrote (outside the Ambient Lit project), called Jellybone, pulls out all the stops, utilizing vibrations, video, audio, and even pinging notifications.
Why its hot
This is certainly a cool use of technology to make reading more interactive and engaging for the reader, creating unique experiences. It might be more interesting to younger readers and I’d love to see how they could adapt the technology to pre-existing books to make them more engaging. But I’ll stick with my old person physical books, small NYC apartment be damned!