Goodbye, books. I won't miss you.

I knew a few people who had Kindles and Nooks, but the fact that e-readers had really taken off wasn't clear to me until I rode the Boston subway last year and counted one, two, three, four...it seemed like everyone on the train was holding some kind of e-reader. I was given an iPad for Christmas last year, and it's now the way that I prefer to read books, too. I never thought I'd see the day.

I'm no Luddite—I just always figured that books were too foolproof to be replaced. Futurists have predicted books' demise for a long time, but I figured that the physical experience of holding a book—so cherished by many readers—would stave e-readers off indefinitely. My guess was the same as that of industry insider Jason Epstein: that bookstores would be replaced by efficient digital printers and binders that could produce on the spot any book you wanted, in whatever cover or size you wanted.

What I didn't see coming was that the text-based nature of the Internet would rise to meet books. As important as visuals are online, the Internet is fundamentally a writers' medium. Texts, e-mails, tweets, and status updates are the coin of the realm. "Blogging" is becoming increasingly synonymous with "being on the Internet," and "being on the Internet" is becoming increasingly synonymous with "life."

On my iPad, the iBooks application is really just a specialized Web browser, for reading long-form blog entries that are still called "books." These "books" are increasingly hyperlinked like blog entries and formatted like blog entries, though you're supposed to pay for them and they get downloaded in big chunks.

Reading on my iPad is an order of magnitude more convenient than reading a real book, and wastes fewer resources of mine or Mother Earth's. I don't mind the screen and I like to multitask, so the iPad makes a lot more sense for me than one of those reactionary book-like Kindles or Nooks. I like the way words and information flow freely through the pad and into my head—they move, and that feels right.

Now, when I occasionally pick up an IRL book, it feels like I'm holding a little papery corpse. I will continue to honor the dead, but now that I've seen the glorious light beyond, I won't mourn their passing.

    Our primary commenting system uses Facebook logins. If you wish to comment without having a Facebook account, please create an account on this site and log in first. If you are already a registered user, just scroll up to the log in box in the right hand column and log in.

    Jay Gabler's picture
    Jay Gabler

    Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR.

    Comments

    Which is greener?

    I'm not sure the jury's out on whether e-readers are greener than books. The diigital life-cycle is a whole new problem we have yet to address - especially at the rapid rate we dispose of "old" technologies, and our tendency to dump digital waste in poorer countries. PBS has a thorough investigation of the debate here:

    http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/03/is-digital-media-worse-for-the-env...

    Some bookstores around town offer programs like <a href="http://www.ecolibris.net/">EcoLibris</a> where you can pay an extra dollar to plant a tree to replace what your book took.

     

    goodbye books

    I myself prefer books. I spend roughly 30 hours a week staring at a computer screen at my day job. I spend 15 or more hours a week in my home office playwriting or doing e-mail or theatre-connected activities (e.g., producing a Fringe show), also at a computer. Frankly, I would rather poke a meat skewer into my eyeball than read for pleasure on an electronic device (which means --- you guessed it --- I read very few blogs or internet magazines).

    Jay obviously feels differently. He's also 2-3 decades younger and presumably his eyes have not yet gone to hell. Although I have to say, other than "words and information flow freely through the pad and into my head—they move," (a pretty vague statement, particularly when you consider that pages move, too), he has given no argument for the superiority of iPad reading vs. books. I was ready to listen to one, but nothing was forthcoming.

    So I will put forward an argument in favor of continuing to print paper books. We can no longer read computer files from 30 years ago, and yet we can read books printed up to 500 years ago. It's not just a question of, as one commenter mentioned, whether or not a book can take more of a beating (from a child or an adult) than an iPad. It's not a matter of whether people have or can afford a reading device such as the Kindle or iPad. A book that is printed and bound will be around long after anyone remembers what an iPad or Kindle was or how it worked, and its art and/or information will still be accessible.

    ebooks

    You can't blame the library's books for the library's (or its patrons') inability to keep them dry and mold/pest free. And actual books--paper, ink, paste, cardboard, etc.--have the advantage of containing a firm, secure text. One of the reasons that the world will not believe even photos of Osama Bin Laden's death is that a digital photo--or a digital text--can be photoshopped, altered, adulterated. That's why, to censor what they don't want read, traditional authorities had to physically gather up all the books printed and sold or passed around, before burning them. Today, all you'd have to do is get to the digital edition and alter it. And keep altering it. Texts as now-you-see-it, now-you-don't.

    Indeed: Moveable text, as Jay suggests he likes.

    Nooooo!

    One- books smell lovely.

    Two- nobody is going to give their little kid a kindle to encourage reading, well, not after they drop the first one in the toilet to see if it floats.

    Seriously, I do hope books stay around for a good long time.  Partly because I do love them myself, but also because people forget there is a large segment of this population not part of the paperless society we seem to be moving toward.

    Yessss!

    As a voracious reader, I'm sympathetic to your love of physical books. I have a few thoughts on what you have written.

    1. You're not alone. There's a definite romanticism attached to physical books. However, I argue that it only exists because many people have never had to experience the dark side of books' physicality. I've spent the past five summers working in a library and I can tell you with complete confidence that books, especially old books, don't live up to the smell hype. I haven't counted how many moldy/pest-infested books i've come across, but they really are "little papery corpses." Digital collections would be much cleaner, smaller, and easier to organize than what we've got going on now.

    2. But children do have the ability to be engaged by a kindle-like device. The interactivity that Jay loves in his iPad is the same type of interactivity a child could love. Imagine a device that lets a kid play a game in the middle of a chapter- couldn't that be fantastic for reading comprehension, not to mention fun? It's all the same content. No matter what. The Wind in the Willows will always be the Wind in the Willows, no matter how you read it. Children can still be creative, they can still be transported to other worlds and blah blah blah. Of course, you make a good point concerning durability... but it's not like books fare well in a toilet either.


    3. There's something to this. For a large part of the population, the Internet and Life aren't yet synonymous. However, Jay's argument is still completely valid, if only because of public libraries. Librarians are the unsung heroes of this increasingly digital society: just as they are teaching people how to use the Internet (at the Hennepin County Library, classes are offered to increase computer literacy: http://www.hclib.org/pub/events/Classes.cfm), they can teach someone how to use a Kindle. i don't think we're far away from seeing a variation of the library loan system that gives people unbridled access to electronic reading devices, regardless of their technical competencies and financial limitations.

    I'd love to hear what others think about all of this.