Now available in the App Store for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, Booktrack provides a soundtrack for e-books, including songs, ambient music, and sound effects, that is automatically paced to an individual's reading speed.



From my blog at

Hi folks,

You might want to look at this link before reading what I have to say about it.

While there, check out the videos provided, especially the one titled “Booktrack Interview with James Frey.”

Booktrack is the new technology that provides sound tracks for e-books. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, one that will enhance the reading experience vastly. But… is there a downside?

Well… perhaps. Okay. Yes.

One factor the proponents of it (James Frey, for one, is pioneering its use), don’t mention is that it changes what has always been, to use Marshall McLuhan’s terms, a hot media into a cold one. For those who are perhaps somewhat removed from the sophomore communication classes on McLuhan’s theories we sat through at ol’ State U., he divided media into two basic categories—“hot” and “cool” media.

In basic terms, a hot media is one that is low in audience participation because more than one sense is involved. Examples are movies and television where more than one sense is involved, i.e., sight and sound. Sensory experience trumps intellectual.

Cool media are media is one where audience participation is much higher. Examples are books and radio, where only one sense is involved—sight in written material, and sound in radio broadcasts. Intellectual experience trumps sensual.

The fewer senses involved, the higher the degree of audience participation. The participant in a cool media, like a novel, has to bring something to the table to be able to enjoy the experience. That “something” is imagination. The same for radio. We hear the broadcast, but rely on our imaginations to furnish the context. We see the words in a novel, but rely on our imaginations to furnish the context.

Basically, the cooler the media, the more the mind and intelligence of the participant are engaged.

A reader is much more engaged in the experience than a movie-goer, who basically sits in his or her seat and lets the sound track and visuals furnish most of the experience. In other words, a cool media requires mental and intellectual participation; a hot media, much, much less. Everything is done for you in a movie and the participant basically sits there and lets the media take over much of the brain’s functions. Reading a book, on the other hand, requires the reader to engage intellectually in the experience. i.e. to think, to bring the imagination to the table. The more senses employed, the less the participant has to do and he/she basically becomes a passive subject. The fewer senses employed, the more the participant has to become active to enjoy the experience. The receiver must fill in the missing information. Indeed, that’s a factor in determining good writing from poor writing—the more the writer fills in for the reader, the lower the quality of the material. As Hemingway pointed out, good writing is like an iceberg. Nine-tenths of the iceberg is below the surface and invisible; only one tenth is invisible. A quality novel requires effort on behalf of the reader—a good book is a participatory exercise where both the author and the reader need to do some work.

Some argue that the emergence of hot media is the main factor involved in the “dumbing down of America.” We sit and absorb movies and television and our brains just aren’t engaged much. When we read something, our brains are awakened and engaged or else we don’t get much from the experience. Those who believe that movies and television destroy intellectual activity (I’m in that camp) point out that attention spans and comprehension levels have fallen drastically with the advent of movies and TV and in a direct correlation to their rate of popularity. It’s a solid and fairly scientific argument.
The more society tends toward hot media over cool, the less the intellect is accessed and falls further into disuse.
Hot media are low in audience participation due to their high resolution or definition. Cool media are high in audience participation due to their low definition (the receiver must fill in the missing information).
Which brings us back to… Booktrack.

While whatever I say here will have little or no effect upon the future of soundtracks in books—the genie is out of the bottle and nothing will stuff it back—I’ll at least have the satisfaction of delivering a bit of a warning for some not to embrace it without thought about the consequences.
Booktrack is simply a move toward removing the intellectual factor from the act of reading and making the reading experience “easier.”

It’s instructive to watch the video titled “Booktrack Interview with James Frey” (available at the link provided above), and listen to Brooke Geahan’s remarks as he describes the experience he had, where the “reading itself disappears and he’s transported into the movie” (badly paraphrased, but you’ll see what I mean.). Sounds much like the experience movie-goers have of suspending thought processes during a well-made movie with high production values. Pleasurable experience, for sure… but at what expense? It appears to me that sensory pleasure overrides intellectual pleasure.

Booktrack is absolutely going to become a player in the world of e-books—I don’t see anything holding the tsunami back. But—what will this new world of books going to do to our minds, to our intellectual abilities?

I’m curious as to your thoughts on this… I’m anticipating a lively debate. Probably mirroring the older one over books vs movies… With excellent points on both sides…

Blue skies,

P.S. Please know I’m not against movies—I watch a great many movies and enjoy many of them. However, I do read far more books than view movies.