There’s an article called Books Without Batteries: The Negative Impacts of Technology that Ruth sent over to me about how eReaders are bad and printed books are good. The article mentions a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains which I started to read but got tired of it after about the third chapter.
The book makes its point in the first chapter quite clearly: the Internet is changing the way people think, moving us from a single-threaded model to a multi-threaded model (to use a computer analogy) and that change is making it hard for people to concentrate on anything – for example, reading a book – for a long period of time.
I basically agree with that sentiment, with one caveat: that the effect is certainly not uniform across the population. But that caveat aside, the point is well received: things like text messages, Twitter and Facebook have turned us into a nation of people suffering from a collective case of ADHD.
But to lump eReaders in with text messaging is just silly. eReaders are a technological attempt at bringing back linear thought. The books that you read in an eReader are presented in the same linear form that printed books are.
The article goes on to make another rather flimsy assertions: that bound books are more environmentally friendly than eReaders. The author points out that making an eReader uses a lot more exotic resources – metals, plastics, etc – than a book does, and it takes 70 times more water to produce an eReader than it does to produce a book. For one thing, I think people generally read more than 70 books on a single eReader. Also, not everyone buys a purpose-built eReader; many people read eBooks on their iPhone or some other device that they already own for different reasons. And lastly: people like gadgets, and if selling them a gadget gets them reading books, then that’s fine with me.
One point that I think is entirely missed in the article is that electronic editions of books is making it possible for independent authors to widely distribute books without the need for a publishing house to act as a middle man. Web sites like Lulu help promote those type of authors very well. This more open market allows authors who would never have gotten any attention before to market themselves.
Another benefit of electronic editions is that they can be instantly distributed to anywhere on the globe, and they can be cataloged and searched with ease. Rare works can be digitized and shared with people who would otherwise not have had access to them. And let’s not forget the infinite durability of electronic media: books wear out, get lost and are destroyed (accidentally or otherwise) over time, but once something is posted on the Internet it is nearly impossible to truly erase.
I was a library volunteer for almost my entire grade school career. I love libraries. I love book shops. I love the smell and feel of books. But the reality is that books are going the way of vinyl records. Book stores will probably always exists, and so will printed books. But they will become more of a novelty – and that’s a good thing in my opinion. Books were invented to help disseminate information. The Internet is better – in terms of cost, speed and accessibility – at disseminating information. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.
Books will always have their allure and their charm, but as an information delivery mechanism, their time has passed.
Since I bought my eReader in January, I have been a more active reader than I have in years. My eReader (a Kobo, if you’re interested) is lighter and smaller than any book so I can carry it with me everywhere. I find myself reading a bus stops or while in a waiting room whereas before I would stare out the window or at the lousy artwork. I have read more in the last 3 months than I probably read in the previous 3 years. And that is certainly a good thing, for me and for all the authors out there whose eBooks I purchased.