Thursday, February 28, 2008

Electronic books

Here's a subject that bears watching - more attempts at creating an e-book that people might actually want to use. No matter how useful a one-volume library might be, no one want to stare at a low-resolution screen for hours, or have to recharge their book every few hours, or hold something heavier and clumsier than a textbook.

I find it reassuring to know that books won't disappear any time soon, certainly not until traditionalists like myself are satisfied with the replacement. But I'll find it hard to let go of that affection I feel for a book as an object. I like the individualism of a book, that each book is its own entity. Magazines and journals lack that; no matter how fascinating an article might be, it doesn't have a personality in the same way that my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did. Those of us who think of books as friends, and not just objects, will find such adjustments very difficult.

But then, music buyers probably thought the same of their beloved LP's, with their distinctive cover art and self-contained collection of songs. That hasn't stopped MP3 downloading from taking over the music distribution enterprise. So I imagine it won't be long before most younger people read something like the preceding paragraph, roll their eyes, and wonder what that touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo was supposed to be about. I'll have no right to judge them for it.

1 comment:

James Hanley said...

There may be a difference between a vinyl record and a book, in that when you were using the record, you didn't have it in your hands. You couldn't stuff it in your backpack for that long bus trip, or to pull out when you take a break while hiking.

Like you, I hesitate to predict the future. But when I see my kids sleeping in a bed that's filled with books, I think they're developing the same sense of them that we have. And J.K. Rowling might have set back the cause of the e-book for another generation.

In line with what you said in your Borders post, it's not whether an e-book is technologically possible--it's whether they'll provide a better real-world experience for the reader. MP3s are better than vinyl because of their portability, but people often want to have lots of songs with them at one time. People usually just want to have 1 or 2 books with them at once.