September 6th, 2013 | by JOE DONOVAN Arts & Books | Posted In: Books

TechfestNW Dispatches: Andy Merkin, Guillermo del Toro and the Future of Stories

The Future of Books. Maybe.

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In the smaller of two stages at Techfest NW, Musicfest NW's little-sister technology festival in which smart people talk about what they do and love, an audience of mostly techies gathered to attend a discussion by Mirada Studios' Andy Merkin. 

Mirada Studios, if you didn't know, is the studio founded by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth), a hellaciously inventive visual storyteller who makes full use of technology. Every morning at 9:15 Andy Merkin meets with Guillermo del Toro and others at del Toro's Mirada Studios to discuss what exactly is going on inside their Marina del Ray, Calif., offices, whether  del Toro’s summer blockbuster Pacific Rim to a giant interactive installation in New York for IBM. 

But what interested Merkin at Techfest NW was narrative expansion. Not the sort practiced by Proust, wherein one book becomes seven, but rather the expansion into new media and new technologies: in this case, Kindle and iPads. There is, Merkin says, a “science of storytelling.” 

Merkin introduced, in particular, the notion of a new model of book publishing exemplified by children's fiction writer Cornelia Funke with her newest Mirror World novel. The project is designed to fully immerse the reader in the book using technology made available on the iPad and Kindle, a tack Merkin calls a “kinesthetic approach.” 

This means, photos, short clips and audio recordings that all contribute to broadening Funke’s story. You know: the sort of stuff news organizations have already been struggling to add to stories on the Web, whether all those streaming clips on the Pitchfork music review site or the cascades of cool visuals on the New York Times' Snow Fall. The crux: when we tell stories on digital templates, we’re rethinking how narratives function in our life. 

We're also, obviously making cool things, whether enduring or novelty.

Still, it's not clear whether narrative forms are being fundamentally changed, or augmented, or even just distracted from by the technologies Merkin presents. Are old-school books and movies really more primitive, brutish versions of multimedia extravaganzas like Mirror World? Is a lo-fi film worse than a del Toro epic?

Well, not always. It depends. But if enough e-books come out with the extras, it might not matter: It might just become what people expect. For a time. Until the next thing. 
 
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