James Bridle, 30, has carved out a niche for himself as a digital thinker, speaker, writer, designer and all-round bringer-together of books, games, art and the web. He tells us about his career and current projects...
Over the years I’ve been doing a lot of experiments with the form of the book, that ask questions like, if books are no longer the place where we put the stuff we want to keep forever, then what are they for?
Recently, for instance, I took the entire history of the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War and bound it as a 12-volume hardback encyclopedia. I’m obsessed with Wikipedia, how every article has the whole history of its construction behind it: it’s designed not just to contain human knowledge but also to show the process of how that knowledge has come to be. There were a lot of interesting responses. Many people seemed quite upset about the basic statement, which is that you can’t define truth that easily.
My Master’s degree was in Computer Science and Cognitive Science, which started by dealing with artificial intelligence. But they shut that part of the course down after a year, and allowed me to study whatever I wanted: English, Psychology, Linguistics and raw Computer Science. By the time I finished, I was fed up with computers, so I went into publishing – then after five years in publishing I realised that what publishing really needed was more people working with computers, so I kind of closed the circle.
I worked as an intern at Bloomsbury then got a job at Snowbooks. Eventually I had my own list of contemporary fiction. I started pushing the online side: we were the first publisher to have a blog, the first to have a Myspace page and the first to have a shop in Second Life. Later I joined a company called Apt, specialising in digital projects within publishing. We developed a soundtracked audiobook of Nick Cave’s novel The Death of Bunny Monroe. It was the first audiobook in which you could switch at any moment between the audio and the text versions.
I started my blog Book Two back in 2006. It seemed like the Internet was radically changing publishing and also that e-books were going to be along soon. This was in late 2006 and if you said “e-books” to anyone in publishing, they put their fingers in their ears and went “ra ra ra no no” and I thought that was ridiculous, that we should get on with discussing them.
These days, I’m working on several new projects which use digital technology to take stories and storytelling out into the world. Chromoroma is a massive, multi-player real world game that you can play with your Oyster card. If you live in London you can sign up and join teams, and it will allow you to create stories around quite mundane day-to-day travel.
The Bus Tops project, for which I’m narrative lead, will put big screens on top of bus stops in the year running up to the Olympic games. Our future is terrifyingly full of big public, corporate screens. One of the aims for me is that these screens are going to be open access, that people are going to be able to put what they want on them.
I think almost everything I do comes from my background in technology and literature. Everything has some kind of digital component, even if it’s just a kind of digital way of thinking I’ve been nurtured to have.
James Bridle was talking to Seb Emina.
For more information, visit his website.