Sunday, January 15, 2006

Soon you'll be reading this on a computer screen. Oh, wait

According to a report in Saturday’s A2 section of The Age, it won't be too long until books start disappearing off the shelves - and not in flurry of sales.

Of course, to readers of perpetually obsessed techno-lovers Wired or Slashdot, this news isn't really news at all. Electronic books - or "e-Books" - have been available to download for years now, and "tablets" - the portable devices with which to read them - have been the subject of the techno savvy's dreams for just as long.

Furthermore, this here article is only getting to you through the wonderful magic of the internet.

Still, as much as I - and, presumably, you the reader - have embraced the world wide web and all its marvellous peculiarities, there's something romantic about the tangible beauty of clutching a book, a real book with pages and scuffmarks and dog-ears - not just a computer screen.

I imagine the backlash will be widespread. Like the vinyl fanaticism that resurrected itself after the introduction of compact discs (and the supposed demise of records) one suspects that real books won't die out quickly.

In fact they're unlikely to die at all. Perhaps it's an obvious point, but so many great institutions - libraries, parliaments, universities and schools - have such great collections of literature that a truly bookless world is a virtual impossibility.

Nonetheless it would be reticent of us to laugh in the face of the encroaching technology too haughtily. The obvious advantages hold sound arguments: the chance, as Bill Gates recently pointed out, to spend $400 on a tablet for access to a lifetime of books instead of the endless costs of perpetuating a "real" library; the masses of space that would be saved by these portable devices; the mind-boggling potential for research and referencing for academics - not to mention the rest of us.

But there are sure to be more arguments not yet considered. How long will it be before pragmatic environmentalists realise the advantages of a non-paper based medium and embrace it with militant fervour? How soon will books become just another haven for entrepreneurial advertising companies, selling off strips of our viewing space catered to our personalities and reading habits?

So far, the issues being debated focus solely on the ethical considerations of copyright and ownership. But soon all this and more will come to the fore, and the e-Books debate will be suddenly complex.

4 comments:

rui said...

From a practical point of view i can't see books dissapearing myself.

Reading a screen is nothing like reading something on paper. I love reading but would seriously struggle to read a novel on a screen. There seems to be less permanance and it's harder to read on a screen. I dont; know if this is hjust a cultural thing or a real issue with how the human brain works.

pandaobscura said...

Certainly a lot of that would be to do with watching a screen which constantly refreshes; as I understand it these are totally static images (though how they achieve that I don't know).

But yeah I wonder how much is culture vs brain too...

Jill said...

I fucking hate reading long bits of text on screen. Just like rui said (and not to do with refreshing et al) I find it really hard...a book you can use pages as kind of visual cues for where you're up to. I can pick up a book and remember whereabouts on the page I was looking - on a screen it all blends in together, I don't like it AT all!

I agree with you though - it's all very well for me to say that, but there could be an entire generation younger than me who reading a novel on a screen appeals to...so we can't really afford to be complacent about it.

I think it will still be a while off though. Fuck! I love books! :(

Also - books are transportable...not everyone has a notebook...yet. Aagh! you really have me worried now.

pandaobscura said...

That's a good point about the blending together thing, I didn't think of that.

Anyway, think of all the poor kids who can't afford them! (Although, the thought of prissy rich kids being bashed by kids from the 'burbs does make me giggle a touch.)