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.