Booking Through Thursday: The Digital Age


First. Go read this great article from Time Magazine: Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. (Well worth reading.)

Second. Stop and think about it for moment. Computers and digital media are changing everything we do these days, whether we realize it or not, and that includes our beloved books.

Third. DISCUSS! Tell us what you think. Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read e-books on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?

Although I have a number of them both on my laptop and my home desktop, I’ve never read a complete book on my computer. Doing so on a desktop is too confining because you can’t just go somewhere else to read. While the laptop is portable, it still isn’t that conducive for, say, reading outdoors or in bed. Plus you just can’t tuck it under your arm and open it up to read right away.

I would perhaps consider an ebook reader for travel and reading outside the home. I like the thought of being able to carry a number of books in a small amount of space rather than wondering about which books you take or leave behind on a trip. But one of my complaints is something the article glosses over. While it is cheaper to publish and distribute electronically, to my knowledge we’re not seeing that with e-books. Much like the music industry, downloading music from licensed sources wasn’t really a workable model until you could get individual downloads for about a buck (and thus get only the songs you liked from a CD) and complete CDs for the same price or less than the actual CD. Unless and until publishers and distributors find a comparable economic model, I’ll be reluctant to buy an ebook reader, even without regard for DRM and technological issues.

The story also notes in passing something else that concerns me about e-books. It says, “Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don’t linger on the language; you just click through.” While I may not always linger on the language, this implies almost cursory reading, as if what’s next is more important than the sentence you are currently reading. If no one lingers on the language, then what is the incentive to improve the quality of the writing?

While I’m far from a Luddite, I am one of those who wonders if convenience is worth losing the sensory aspect of curling up somewhere with bound dead wood.

All our lauded technological progress … is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal.

Albert Einstein, 1917

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