As everyone with a passing interest in modern technology knows, books aren't dead. They just need to be relentlessly 'augmented' by layer after layer of digital bells and whistles, so that the story can more effectively… something. Whatever.

To that end, MIT's famed Media Lab have put together a concept for a new type of totally immersive digital book.

This so-called 'Sensory Fiction' is designed to make reading a literally touchy-feely experience. The reader wears a vest which uses subtle vibrations to induce different feelings in the wearer - simulating shivers when its supposed to be cold, or increasing or loosening pressure around you when the book gets scary.

MIT said:

"Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state triggers discrete feedback in the wearable, whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localized temperature fluctuations."

mit


This version of the idea is designed specifically for The Girl Who Was Plugged In, a sci-fi book, but theoretically it could be applied to any novel with the right programming.

The book and wearable include the following gadgets:

  • Light (the book cover has 150 programmable LEDs to create ambient light based on changing setting and mood)
  • Sound
  • Personal heating device to change skin temperature (through a Peltier junction secured at the collarbone)
  • Vibration to influence heart rate
  • Compression system (to convey tightness or loosening through pressurized airbags)

The idea is obviously in its early stages. And right now it might seem more immediately suited to a… certain kind of fiction. But it's possible to see how aspects of this might one day make it into new forms of media. Whether or not they become genuinely widespread is, of course, a much less clear question.

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