Staticness as a Symptom of an Unwell Book.

In the last years I've been constructing a set of practices around knowledge production. Its been a lego-like process. I add one brick, move it a bit, choose one of another color and try and work out where it fits...its not so much a process of deconstruction of publishing as construction of something else. Mainly because I don't know enough about publishing to deconstruct it so I have to start with what I have.

Sometimes however I realise just how odd that construction is, usually this occurs when I see an articulation of 'how things are' in 'the real world' and I realise...opps! I don't at all relate to that or see the sense in it. That occured recently with a discussion on the Read 2.0 list. Someone made a throwaway comment about how books might be changing and one day we might not think of them as static objects. A few comments followed about what the future of the book might be. I was left feeling very much on the outside in my lego constructed world. The only thing I could add to this conversation would have to pull apart the founding assumptions of the future ponderings - & so I just didn't know where to begin.

Books are mostly static objects in this world. You make them, ship them, consume them. Next. However my experience with FLOSS Manuals is that this is exactly what we are trying to avoid. Since 2006 we have been avoiding staticness - rather the aim was, and is, to keep books alive. To a certain extent manuals on software present an obvious case where the value of 'live' books is evident. However I dont think it is restricted to books about software. Books should be living entities and grow with time, expanding or contracting with input from many people.

So, staticness, through the lens of FLOSS Manuals and a 'living book' practice is actually a sympton of an 'unwell' book. A book that is not growing is a neglected work. It is left alone on the shelf to gather dust and die. While healthy books are attended to. They have growth spurts, or sometimes slower, prolonged periods of affection. They may fork, or become a central discussion, they might transit into other contexts entirely or traverse languages. They are alive and more useful to us, vibrant and engaging. They also reveal the fundamental humanity behind the text...it is a conversation between living beings. A book, at its best, is a thriving community.

So, I have learned to look for staticness and when I find it I literally get sad. I see this as a failed work. Something that we were not able to diagnose, or failed to get to in time. At the same time, each failed work is a study and we have much to learn about how and why books die.

I think its important to learn to look for staticness as an early symptom of a failed book.