Now Timothy Leary wants us to turn on our computers. Leary, the former drug guru, is attempting to establish himself as a software impresario of sorts, overseeing the creation of a new generation of interactive programs that he says promise to alter our perceptions of books.
To illustrate his concept of interactive software, Leary is rewriting parts of Huckleberry Finn on the 100th anniversary of its publication. The result will be a "personalized book," allowing the reader to affect events in the story. (In your version, Becky might be the one who takes the raft trip down the Mississippi River.)
If this sounds a little out of character for an aging counterculture hero, Leary would be the first to disagree. "I'm still trying to increase human intelligence," he says, "and so far, [software] is legal." He has even launched a company that he dubbed Futique Inc., in Learyesque counterpoint to "antique."
Eventually, Leary says Futique staffers will rewrite science textbooks for interactive software, using a program he affectionately refers to as SKIPy. SKIPy initially asks 32 personal questions to get a fix on the reader's personality, then interrupts the reading of the "book" based upon that information. For example, SKIPy might suddenly decide to quiz you, ask if you are tired, and so on.
"There's going to be a profound change in the relationship between author and reader," Leary predicts. "Every book in the future will be an interactive process between author and reader. . . . I think it's time we got our great writers to explore this new art form."
And, according to Leary, that is exactly the role his Hollywood, Calif.-based company will play. One of the company's key functions will be to "coach creative writers to communicate in the new interactive language between author and reader which I feel is made possible by the advent of personal computers. I'm introducing creative writers to creative programmers, software developers, and even animators." So far, Leary has signed on writer William Burroughs, screenwriter Terry Southern, and University of California at Los Angeles professor Roy Wolford, a leading authority on life extension and rejuvenation.
But Leary has yet to make any deals with software companies, so Futique remains a company on paper without a product to market. "You have to understand Tim Leary," says a public relations spokesperson. "He's got the contacts -- he doesn't need a building and a bunch of secretaries."
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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