“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.” ~ Douglas Adams
That was Douglas Adams’ comment in 2001 on a BBC radio series, claiming that the future of books would not be printed in thick black ink but in “intangible streams of electrons we receive through the internet“.
I’ve always been a Technological Outsider. I have previously written about the dangers of technology disconnecting us from ourselves.
Until a few days ago, I was an eBook skeptic. I would simply block out anything to do with kindles, kobos and e-ink. When someone would suggest them, I’d begin my lecture on the aesthetic appeal of books – the smell, the feel and the physical pleasure of turning a page. Then I came across one in the store.
eBooks have an immense value, I won’t deny that. eBooks are environmentally more sustainable, practical to hold, store, transport, read in the dark, plus, they have inbuilt dictionaries, and ways to bookmark, tag, share and cross reference information. Not only that, but author’s that decide to self-publish their works as eBooks receive much higher percentages they make from sales. So you’re supporting our fellow introverted pals as well.
But which is better in the long term: traditional books, or eBooks?
The way I see it: this isn’t the Twilight saga – there’s no choice between Team eBook OR Team Paperback, as much as our black and white minds would love to think. Choosing what’s best for you really comes down to context, location, convenience, access, need or requirement. Although, I bet you’ve read countless articles for and against eBooks and regular books, as I have.
Most of the articles in favor of regular books use many sentimental and nostalgic reasons for their value: aesthetic aging, stains, smells, notes, as well as their function as hereditary family heirlooms, and beauty in old bookstores, where you have the delight of serendipitously stumbling across a book you fall in love with.
These are all perfectly valid reasons. Our society is composed of feelers and thinkers after all – for some the aesthetic and sentimental nuances enhance the experience. For others, practicality and efficiency is what’s most important.
Many technological outsiders that I’ve spoken to and listened to appreciate the subtleties and extra dimensions of reading traditional books. Any master chef will tell you that the presentation of a meal is just as important as the meal itself.
But the old fashioned book vs. eBook dilemma doesn’t have to be an either or situation. They can coexist. Still, regular books fulfill practical purposes that eBooks can’t. They aren’t only for the “sentimental and nostalgic ‘book sniffers’ that can’t evolve with the times”.
These are some of the reasons why regular books still serve a practical purpose in society:
- Hardiness: I’ve broken my ‘gorilla glass’ smart phone screen 3 times in the past year. I don’t like living with anxiety in my pocket, thinking any minute I’ll hear a crack and have to spend another $160. Also, have you ever tried to read in the bus stop or park on a rainy day with an e-Reader? And frankly, I like being able to throw a book at my 12 year old brother when he’s annoying.
- Information Control: I’ve never liked voluntarily giving up my freedom to anything, so becoming dependent on technology and enslaved to forces out of my hands is not a desirable prospect. With an eBook you face the possibility of exterior manipulation, of a “1984” scenario where one day the government or a hacker globally enforces redaction’s, sanitization, revisions and “amendments” to different titles.
- Technological Vulnerability: Technology is a liquid medium – it has no solidity. It’s vulnerable to viruses, glitches, software and hardware errors. There’s always the risk of an “oops, EMP (Electromagnetic pulse) brought on by North Korea” moment where all electronic devises die and so does your entire library.
- Battery Operated: This is another aspect where you relinquish control with eReaders, even if they can last up to 2 months on a single charge. It’s great that you can read at night without disturbing your bed partner, but what about us aspiring hermits? I don’t feel comfortable knowing there’s any type of time limitation imposed on my reading. It’s more practical to not be tied to electricity.
- Visual Incentive: When you love a book, the book shows it. I have books that are worn, pages creased, bent backs from years of owning and reading them. One of my greatest incentives as a child, and even now, was looking at my bookshelf and thinking that I had read all those books. I felt accomplished, and a sense of a achievement that motivated me to want to read more every time I woke up.
- Costs: With eReaders you’re not only paying for the eBooks you buy, but the apparatus itself. This apparatus, like most technology, constantly makes you feel like you’re being left behind. There’s always some new, better model out there with greater features that you’ll spend more on to upgrade or replace. Secondly, as a regular book Outsider, you can profit from everyone else’s desire to own eReaders as second hand books these days cost but a fraction of the price an eBook would.
- Eye Strain: For many, especially Highly Sensitive People, reading from a screen causes a strain on the eyes. Even on devices that use ‘e-ink’, there’s a full screen flicker between ‘pages’.
- Making Friends: Through my life, there’s been countless times where I’ve befriended or have been befriended thanks to a book cover. It’s a personality prop: what you read is a small representation of who you are, what you like, and it makes it really easy for onlookers to find kinship with you. That’s if you like that kind of thing.
- Collectibles: Just like today’s first editions of old books are worth significant amounts of money, through time (like vintage cars), regular books will increase in monetary value due to their scarcity.
Of course, I’m sure a few hundred years ago they said all this about scrolls.
I don’t believe the evolution of eBooks replacing books will be like MP3’s replacing CD’s. Instead, it will be that a few Technological Outsiders collecting printed books will become like those music lovers who still insist on collecting vinyl, because of its richer sound experience.
What do you think? Are you a Technological Outsider or a Technological Evolutionist?