With the new possibilities for multi-media storytelling brought by the iPad, Jean Gralley’s 2006 essay gains new relevance. I haven’t seen Gralley mentioned in recent talk on the eBook revolution, maybe because she writes as a childrens’ book illustrator. But I think many of her ideas resonate with recent commentaries on digital books more generally, so I’m excerpting extensively from her vivid language. Here are her words, with screenshots from the accompanying Flash video  > >

> >  I love everything about the traditional picture book art form. But when I discovered a hidden world of picture book artists who are creating traditional books in radically nontraditional ways, I was fascinated and hooked. As I played with these new computer programs, it dawned on me that my very thinking was being re-wired. Story ideas came that didn’t work well on paper.

It’s ridiculous to make a monitor do what paper does better. But the problem is not that things have gone too far but that they haven’t gone far enough. Let digital be digital. Let the digital medium create stories that can’t be told as well on paper — or told on paper at all. Imagine a story progressing not by page turns but by proceeding up, down, to the right, or even to the left. … Recognizing that our commitment is to the story and not to paper is powerful fuel for picture book creators; it’s all we need for liftoff.

Imagine words and pictures appearing, receding, and gliding into place. Envision stories that might proceed by unfolding like a flower, or sinking as if into a black hole in space.

As illustrators are loosening our paper bonds, so, too, can picture books. We’re able to create digital books because we’re becoming technologically and psychologically ready to create them and because our imaginations are lifting off the page.

The reader should be the prime mover. Just as in a traditional picture book, no matter what the digital book is capable of, the reader should direct the experience, determining the pace, backtracking or even skipping ahead. The reader should read. Unlike watching a video, the child won’t passively watch pictures while a text is being “told” via an audio file.

E-Books, with their fantastic ability to cross-reference, layer, and update information with ease and speed, are already being embraced, especially in academia. But developing their unique promise as a visual medium could make us re-think what a book is, in truly revolutionary ways. It makes sense that we children’s book illustrators would be the ones to take this step. We love to play with materials and forms. … Now some of us are thinking of leaving the page altogether.

For me, the concept of digital picture books is less about “embracing the future” and much more about our now. If we once framed the cosmos with a black-and-white sensibility, we are now swimming in a vivid Technicolor reality. If we once perceived the world as flat, it is now understood to be dimensional. Why shouldn’t our art and our stories reflect this?

The printed book is a beautiful, ancient, enduring form that will continue to exist. But these new tech tools are exquisitely appropriate for our time. To resist them seems to me to be not quite present. Although different tools may produce different kinds of tales, we are simply furthering the narrative of our one long tale. We are still moving along the age-old thread of storytelling. > >

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Meta-story (How I came upon Jean Gralley’s article) – Recently Roger Sutton (@HornBook), the editor of the childrens’ book magazine Hornbook, followed me on Twitter. As I often do when I get a new Twitter follower, I poked around doing some googling on his website to see what there is about the digital thing, and came upon Gralley’s article — A real hidden gem, that confirms my idea that childrens digital book people have a lot of good things to say on digital books more generally.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

In another article, I’ve discussed the idea of the WIDE WORLD Web — the idea that people with significant connections outside the US have made disproportionately large contributions to innovation and quality on the Web. I suggest in that article that one reason for this is that Wide World people seem to have a particular appreciation for Storytelling. Here, then,I’ll discuss examples of this from articles I’ve written.

The outstanding example of resonance between the Wide World community, storytelling, and the Web is certainly British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie’s tantalizing word picture in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that I see as an envisioning (prediction?) of  the Web. Rushdie, of course, was raised as a Muslim in India, and his “stories within stories within stories” style in Haroun resonates equally with One Thousand and One Nights and with the Web that we experience, with its “liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity,” to borrow Rushdie’s words.

I’ve gotten new insights into storytelling and the Web in following the active brain of Bulgarian blogger and storytelling fan Maria Popova. She coined the phrase “controlled serendipity” that spread virally last winter after being headlined in a NY Times article by Nick Bilton. As I wrote in my commentary about that article, I think the reason the phrase resonated so strongly with people is because it captures the essence of how we use the Web — To follow stories, and make new stories ourselves. So I see Popova as another example of a heightened appreciation of storytelling from the Wide World community.

Popova combines her interest in storytelling with a strong interest in TED conferences (popularized on the Web as video stories told by prominent people), and I learned to see the TED-Storytelling connection from her. Beyond Popova, TED provides another example of the Wide World community and storytelling — TED Curator Chris Anderson grew up in Pakistan and India — the land of Rushdie — and it certainly seems possible that this experience helped to foster his building TED into a prime Web storytelling spot.

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As I’ve been thinking about TED and storytelling recently, I got a couple of serendipitous nudges yesterday that put librarians into that mix. First, I got a comment from Roy Kenagy on my Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling article, in which he talked of his long experience in public libraries, and his idea that stories and serendipity are a good metaphor for what goes on in public libraries:

I’ve been following your controlled serendipity thread attentively, and I’m much taken with the way you’re now weaving story into the flow. One of the themes that I’ve been exploring over the past few years is that of the public library as fundamentally a “story” resource (and a democratic story itself) rather than an “information” resource – and the further thought that the public library’s primary “information” function is not directed search, but serendipitous browsing. All of this based not on theory but on my 33-year experience of what actually happens in public libraries.

Then a bit later I came across a tweet and web page about TEDx Librarians — A TED spinoff by and for Librarians, which is planned to have its first conference in Ontario in Summer 2010. So of course, it occurs … how about having someone talk about Roy’s idea of “The Storytelling Model of the Public Library”? What do you think, Roy? …


Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

On Friday nights, my wife and I often watch a movie at home. A couple of weeks ago, I picked out 5 possibilities from the public library. At home, we “looked under the hood” for these titles on the Web, and none seemed too exciting, so I suggested that we look at some TED videos online instead. And that turned out to be just the thing for an enjoyable evening.

Part of the reason I had TED on my mind that evening is that I was in the middle of working on the Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling series of articles I was writing, based on the work of Maria Popova, who coined the term “controlled serendipity.” Noting that two of Popova’s strong interests are TED and storytelling, it occurred to me that that’s what’s so appealing about TED — It’s storytelling at its best — Good talkers sharing their passions — “Riveting talks by remarkable people” (See below for more about the stories on TED, and the stories my wife and I especially enjoyed …)


I think TED is often thought of as being rather geekish, but it has a wide variety of compelling topics and presenters. Keep in mind what TED stands for — Technology, Entertainment, Design. My wife is far from being a geek, and she has plenty to choose from. Here are the talks we liked from the Best of TED talks

Did the TED storytelling spirit come from India and Pakistan? I was sensitized to the centrality of storytelling – Age-old & modern – in South Asian cultures when I wrote about my idea that master-storyteller Salman Rushdie envisioned the Web. So, seeing that TED developer Chris Anderson “was born in a remote village in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan” certainly makes me wonder — Did he learn to love story telling from that experience?

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

In a separate article, I describe a small experience of Controlled Serendipity, as I was doing research on Nick Bilton’s recent NYT article ABOUT Controlled Serendipity. Another bit of serendipity that had its source in my research on the Bilton/NYT article goes deeper, leading to insights about the concept of “controlled serendipity” and its relationship to storytelling.


In thinking about the article, I Googled Bilton, and found that one of his interests is storytelling, and that he’s working on a book that has the sub-title The New Business of Storytelling. And I noticed that Maria Popova, who’s cited by Bilton as the coiner of the term “controlled serendipity,” includes “storytelling” as an interest in her Twitter Bio, and that she’s made an imaginative short video called The Evolution of Storytelling.

… So, I think  — Maybe controlled serendipity and storytelling are connected? … Yes, I think — Isn’t that what I’m doing when I do Google (re)searching on the Web? — Following a story… gets me thinking about metaphors … Following a story is like “following a thread,” an old geek/newsgroup idea, apparently having origins in the technical computer science term thread of execution — “a fork of a computer program into two or more concurrently running tasks.” … Now, with the Web, there’s an almost infinite number of “concurrently running” stories, and the trick of Controlled Serendipity is to follow the right story, the one that’s going to Answer The Question.

The thread metaphor leads to others – Fabric, Network — and Salman Rushdie’s word-picture of an Ocean filled with Streams of Stories — Last year, when I wrote a series of articles on The Stream, based on Rushdie’s envisioning of the Web, I emphasized the idea of The Stream, because that metaphor was being talked about by several commentators as the new metaphor for The Web. But Rushdie’s vision goes beyond the stream — He talks about an Ocean of Streams

[The Ocean] was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity … these were the Streams of Story …

This is a very compelling vision of how we experience the Web, I think — Trying to pick out the right story, the right strand, the right stream — And then to follow it as it weaves in and out with 1001 other streams. I think the term Controlled Serendipity catches our fancy because it resonates in our brains in the same way that Rushdie’s word picture does — a poetic description of how we experience the Web.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

In a prophetic passage written in 1990, Salman Rushdie paints a vivid word picture of the Ocean of the Streams of Story that I’ve suggested is an uncanny envisioning of the yet-to-be-created Web. Right now, the evolution of the Web seems to be speeding up, and two recent commentaries, one on the Twitter/Facebook world, and one on Google Book Search, suggest that the Web may be fast growing into the sort of place imagined in Rushdie’s Stream metaphor. I’ve described and excerpted Rushdie’s passage and the two commentaries in other articles, so in this article, I’ll bring the three “streams” together, by excerpting a few lines from each.

Salman Rushdie, describing the Ocean of the Stream of Stories:

It was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity … it was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

Nova Spivack suggests that the new metaphor for the Web will be the Stream:

Something new is emerging … I call it the Stream … The Web has always been a stream of streams. … with the advent of blogs, feeds, and microblogs, the streamlike nature of the Web is becoming more readily visible.

Peter Brantley, writing on Google Book Search, says:

We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers; drops of thought misting from the sundering thrust of great waterfalls; and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce, and which carry our sails to continents not yet imagined.

What an interesting story the Web itself is! — The Stream imagined by Rushdie 19 years ago looks like it might finally be flowing together with Spivack’s Stream and Brantley’s long winding river.

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Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

When I first read the passage below in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the sea of stories three years ago, it struck me as a remarkable word picture of my experience of the Web. So of course I went right to Google to see if anyone else had made this connection — My searching, surprisingly, has found little since then, so I’ve thought about writing it up, but it didn’t get done. In the last week, I’ve gotten nudges (discussed below) that tell me this is the time. Here’s Rushdie:

Haroun looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and [the Water Genie] explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each colored strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

Pow! Isn’t this a strikingly clear metaphorical description of the Web Stream that we all swim in every day? My first idea of a title for this article was “Did Salman Rushdie predict the Web?” I decided that was a bit too presumptuous  — But not by much — The passage does indeed verge on prediction. It was written in 1990 — Interestingly, the same year that Tim Berners-Lee “invented” the World Wide Web. It’s tempting to imagine the left-brained engineer (Berners-Lee) and the right-brained artist-seer (Rushdie) both envisioning the future Web in their own ways — Berners-Lee in outlining his Web ideas at CERN, and Rushdie in writing Haroun.

How has this passage and its Webishness gone unnoticed for so many years? Haroun is a story on many levels — Rushdie wrote it for his young son, and it’s often put in the category of “childrens’ literature.” I suspect this is the main reason it hasn’t been read often enough by grown-up Web users for someone to have seen Rushdie’s Stream of the Web metaphor. (Note that Haroun is on a prominent list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time)

How about the library connections in the passage? As a librarian, it certainly occurs to me that it could be viewed as being especially about libraries, maybe even seen as a threat to the traditional print library (“storeroom of yarns”). But I think, to the contrary, that Rushdie’s passage does the library world a great service, ushering us into the “liquid tapestry” of the digital Ocean, in which the Stream of “the library” will be able to “weave in and out” with the “thousand thousand and one different currents” outside of the traditional library world. Recent discussions of Google Book Search and orphan books show that the world is eagerly anticipating the stories in libraries being put into “fluid form.” And, in fact, library leader Peter Brantley, in commentary on GBS written in January 2009, talking about the coming age of digital books, uses language reminiscent of Rushdie: “We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers … and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce.”

Speaking of the library world — As mentioned, there has been a notable lack of anyone else seeing a connection between the Rushdie passage and the Web. But the closest I’ve seen is in a paper co-authored by an engineer (JH Lienhard) and two librarians (JE Myers, TC Wilson), that was written in 1992, Surfing the Sea of Stories: Riding the Information Revolution (Mechanical Engineering 1992 Oct; 114(10): 60-65). This does an excellent job of connecting the Rushdie passage to the coming digital revolution, as it was seen in 1992, and contains the perceptively-done graphic in this article (above). But of course the full-blown Web was not born until 1995, so this view is limited. (The paper is summarized in the transcript of a radio program about it.)

Nudges for writing about this in the last week: First, In his blog article, Is The Stream What Comes After the Web?, Nova Spivack suggests that the metaphor of The Stream may soon replace The Web. The article doesn’t mention Rushdie, but it has elicited much discussion on Twitter, and someone would surely make the connection soon. Spivack does mention Twitter, saying that it and other microblogging systems are “the best example of the Stream,” which is related to the other nudge I’ve gotten, a blog article by Joff Redfern, Twitter is becoming the Ocean of the Stream of Stories. This is short , consisting mainly of the Rushdie quote above, but with its title it would likely be connected to Spivack’s Stream and Rushdie’s Streams of Stories sooner or later. Taken together, I think the articles by Spivack and Redfern indicate that Twitter is bringing to peoples’ minds the “stream-like” nature of the Web — The way big streams (e.g. swine flu 2 weeks ago) weave in and out with the day-to-day small streams of peoples’ lives on the Twitter ocean, with the stories constantly rewriting themselves.

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Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp