Once upon a time, long ago, in what now feels like a galaxy far, far away, I went to Disney World as part of a high school trip. On this trip, I experienced something still relatively new to the entertainment world – 4D.

Now, there are only 3 actual dimensions in this universe. But this isn’t a science lesson. This is a sensory lesson.

What did Disney mean by 4D? It meant you didn’t just put on glasses and things flew out at you from the screen. Instead you put on your glasses and objects sprouted out of the floor or fell down from the sky. Seats shook. Wind blew. Water fell. It was a full sensory experience. 4D is now much more common, but at the time in the mid 1990s it was a revelation.

Books go 4D

4D is a theme park attraction at this point. It’s not something you could necessarily experience in your home and certainly not something you could combine with a book. Or could you?

Well, the super smart people at MIT decided to do just this as a part of a class project. Yep, just another day at MIT. Get up, eat breakfast, blow the book world’s minds.

…created by MIT students as a final project for MIT Media Lab’s Science Fiction to Science Fabrication class, Sensory Fiction is a wearable book that uses networked sensors and actuators to mimic the characters’ emotions and physical state through discrete tangible feedback.

How does it work?

MIT researchers created the prototype using the novella The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree Jr.

But first, you have to put this on.


It’s not that bad right?

Especially since it can do things like:

  • Use a system of sensors and actuators cause shifts in the reader’s heartbeat and temperature.
  • Inflate using pressurized airbags, and constrict to create a feeling of anxiety, or pressure.
  • Change lights on the outside of the book’s cover to fluctuate with the protagonist’s mood fluctuates.

You can watch the video on how it works here: https://vimeo.com/84412874

Is sensory fiction just lazy reading?

sensory fictionMy only concern with this, although it sounds very cool, is that it may stifle imagination. Part of the fun of books is imagining what that rain feels like in your mind. To just give you that sensation may take away from the imagination aspect of books.

So, is this just a cop out? Another lazy man’s way of not thinking or thinking less?

Or is sensory fiction the next big thing?

Like video killed the radio star and internet killed the video star, will sensory fiction be the end of the traditional book? Is this the way to get people who are so plugged into the visual and audio sensory of TV, podcasts and blogs to come back to the world of books?

Probably not for a long while. You can’t even buy one of these yet.

In fact I can find no updates on this crazy thing since news first hit of it back in 2014! So technically this is old news. It was new to me and I thought it worth spreading the word. Maybe we can convince them to bring it to market. I’m pretty sure I’d buy one!

For now it’s just a novelty. (pun intended)

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