I found, via the excellent Speak Quietly blog, this Wired piece about e-books for sale in the iPhone app store. In typical Stacked fashion, I will use this scholarly and well researched piece of journalism as a springboard for an extended rant on a tangentially related subject about which I am barely qualified to hold an opinion, let alone bloviate at length. Ready? Then let’s begin:
Notice the above graphic suggests a battle between two digital devices, rather than a battle between a Kindle and a physical book. I hope you don’t find this too upsetting, but physical books as we know them are already doomed. Barring the unexpected dawning of a new dark age, it’s a done thing. If you are a reader who manages to stay alive for more than 5 years or so, I am confident you WILL own and use a device that allows you to read digitized books. You will still own books. You may even still buy books. But you will do most of your reading on your new device. Get used to it. It is going to happen. It’s time to stop fetishising books as objects, and start deciding how, in their absence, you’d like to get your hands on the information they contain, the containing of which is, after all, the point of books in the first place.
I really hope the Kindle, or something like it, wins. Reading takes concentration, so we’re going to need something specifically designed to make reading pleasant and comfortable, rather than something designed to be as portable as possible. If “e-book” reader becomes just another feature tacked on to an already feature-packed, highly portable device- an iPhone, say- we’re all going to end up with bloodshot eyes, badly blistered scrolling fingers, and only a passing familiarity with the information we’ve just read. Comfort is important, and E Ink is good stuff. Anyone who has ever looked at a Kindle screen knows what I’m talking about.
Anyway, I’ve said it. Paper books are dying, but all of the joy and knowledge they contain is being reborn in digital form as you read this. The bogus “there’s just something about a book” argument won’t save books. There is “just something” about a book, just like there’s “just something” about holding a vinyl record, with its big, beautiful sleeve and non- quantized pure analog sound delivery process. Unfortunately, the “just something” argument isn’t enough to save a technology whose time has passed (although I have to admit that Matt Yglesias’s bathtub argument holds water).
Say a silent prayer for the soul of paper books if it helps you cope, but after that, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to need from the e-book reader you’ll eventually buy. Meanwhile, libraries should start coming up with new ways to stay relevant in the post-book era. Forward thinking old timey libraries like the Mercantile already are.
-Norm De Plume