For those people who bemoan a book's ability to create a visceral connection with easily distracted 21st Century readers more geeked out on virtual reality, artificial intelligence and Candy Crush, congratulations, you've got your wish: reading is about to get more stimulating.
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With a project called Sensory Fiction, researchers at MIT's Media Lab have designed a wearable book, entitled "The Girl Who Was Plugged In," and it aims to make readers quite literally feel what the book's characters are feeling. The pegboard-bound book includes 150 LED lights, plus a series of sensors and actuators wired to a vest that readers wear. Depending on how the plot unfolds, the augmented book generates vibrations and ambient light to simulate a character or story's mood.
For example, a fearful passage triggers the vest's body compression system to constrict and get tighter around the wearer's stomach and back. Vibration patterns during exciting passages cause the heart rate to increase, while more somber moments might trigger a soft, dark light. The vest's localized body temperature control might heat up during a particularly embarrassing section.
"The Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader's imagination," states the group's website. "These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader."
While augmented books are nothing new - Disney has been experimenting with interactive platforms - it's likely that reading as we know it will transform towards a more immersive, plugged-in experiences. As a traditionalist when it comes to reading, I can't say I'm overly enthused about this evolution. The joy of reading is encountering the simple written word and its ability to rouse agony and ecstasy.
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Look, I understand the Sensory Fiction book is, at base, a whimsical project, but if you're the type whose idea of reading is being dazzled by lights and zapped in the rib cage, by all means, go visit a carnival. But if you're looking for some succulent prose, you could do a lot worse than one of my all-time-favorite lines from Barry Hannah's short story, "Get Some Young":
Walthall bought an ancient Jaguar sedan for nothing, and when it ran, smelling like Britain on the skids or the glove of a soiled duke, Walthall sat in it aggressive in his leisure as he drove about subdivisions at night looking in windows for naked people.
Take a good whiff of "Britain on the skids" and "the glove of a soiled duke." Smell that?Now that's some real sensory fiction.