I first heard rumblings about e-books back in 1994 or so. The concept of having books converted to digital format to be read on a portable screen sounded like something yanked straight out of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as a sci-fi fan it most certainly piqued my interest. Right up until the gung-ho folks in the publishing world and avid readers started running off at the collective mouth about how e-books were going to change the way we think about reading and revolutionize the literary industry. Blah fricking blah. As cool as the technology sounded I thought they were being ridiculous. Good old fashioned hardcover and softcover books had been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, so to my mind there was no bloody way enhanced videogame technology was going to do away with them just like that…
I can’t swear to it, but I think it was author Anne Rice that said it best. She agreed that e-book technology had its good points, but reading a computer screen could never replace the solace and comfort one gets from curling up in a favourite chair with a real book, to get lost in its pages and shut out the real world for a while. Something to that effect, anyway. I agreed wholeheartedly and I still do. If I’ve been sitting in front of a computer all day – and hell knows a lot of us are – the last thing I want is to fry my retinas with a monitor burn after hours.
That said, I recently got a real taste of e-book technology and the accompanying hype during a visit to a local bookstore. A display had been set up in the middle of the store showcasing an assortment of e-book models currently on the market through major brand name companies, and my curiosity quite naturally got the better of my hypocritical anti-technology mindset. I spent the next 20 minutes checking out a few of the items on offer, investigating all the neat-o features on offer and screwing around with the settings and multiple formats that supposedly make them so much better than the old reliable pulp and paper. At the end of the exercise I came to the conclusion that the day I own or even use an e-book for casual reading is the day I trade my CD collection for a Hello Kitty wardrobe. To be worn in public.
I believe that e-books are practical, but for the simple enjoyment of reading for the sake of tuning out life for a bit? Not a fucking chance. I’ll get my avidity and voraciousness for the written word off the hard way.
On the positive side, I feel e-books can and should be used for instruction manuals and technical applications. Rather than having to flip through pages upon pages looking for Figure A.3 – AB734.u8 – Z6TG while constructing your IKEA sex swing you could simply bring up the info on screen. Add to that a possible His / Hers function, where his version comes with only two digital pages…
Page 1 – “Welcome”
Page 2 – “Real men don’t use instructions.”
… while her version comes with a special “Customize” function that allows her to alter the factory instructions to suit how she thinks the item in question should be built.
E-books would and should eliminate the need for school textbooks. I’ve lifted my stepdaughter’s school bag stuffed with her required class-to-class reading and these schoolboards are fucking insane. She’s going to have bigger arms and broader shoulders than me by the time she’s 14.
E-book versions of law books and assorted legal doctrine would likewise be a boon to mankind, so long as they are equipped with a translation mode that reduces the multi-billion dollar words and snowjob terminology into simple everyday language. Very important, so that the common folks can get a clearer picture of where and how they’re getting screwed.
Beyond those examples, however, I see absolutely no benefit to buying the latest or greatest titles from one’s favourite writers in e-book form. Yeah, yeah, e-books prevent the wanton destruction of trees and shrubs and all things in between. So would napalming the McDonald’s head office.
Following is a breakdown of why the hard copies kick the snot out of this Next Big Thing crap:
Book : Falls into a puddle, the kitchen sink or Lake Ontario, rendered unreadable. Off to the bookstore or Amazon, buy a new one for $10.00 or less.
E-book: Instant Etch-a-Sketch. Cost of repair is equal or pretty damn close to the $100+ sticker price for a new one. Add labour costs and the wait time, you could have been done the entire series of 7 by the time you get it back.
Book: Burns quite nicely, rendered unreadable. Off to the bookstore or Amazon, buy a new one. Minor damage = looks kinda cool, thus enabling you to bullshit people into believing you do in fact own a first edition of The Hobbit.
E-book: Snap, crackle and pop as it melts into a steaming lump of silicone-based goo. Those 54 books you had saved on it because it’s more about having than actually enjoying the stories? All gone. Commence pulling out of hair, rush home and back-up all those illegal music downloads you “own” just in case.
Book: Drop it on the ground, pick it back up, bitch about the fact you just dog-eared it, continue reading.
E-book: Drop it on the ground, pray to your higher power that the rattling you’re hearing as you pick it up is in fact coming from the packet of Chicklets in your pocket and not the inside of your new toy. If it did in fact survive the drop, commence mourning the fact that paragraphs and entire chapters from the 54 books saved have been moved around. The first sign something isn’t right is finding Lemmy doing battle with The Cat In The Hat in 16th century France.
Book: Have you ever seen what a copy of James Clavell’s classic Shogun does to an insect at a high rate of descent? Call it 1,152 pages of instantaneous oblivion.
E-book: I dare you.
I could open up an even bigger can of worms by discussing the advent of the e-book versus the illegal downloading of written works, but I’ve ranted enough on the subject with regards to music. As an aspiring writer with two books in various stages of development (one ready to go, one a very good idea) it seems as though I’m putting a gun to my foot by not embracing this not-so-new technology. These days many authors and publishing houses are using the internet and e-books to turn something hinting at a profit. Good for them, but when I received a complete copy of an as-yet-unreleased (at the time) Harry Potter book from a friend I was appalled. It turned me off completely. Like music, I consider REAL books sacred whether I’m reading or writing them, so anyone fool enough to try and sell me on the idea of The Wii Generation having all the answers is wasting their time.
There’s nothing wrong with progress so long as we preserve the seed that gave it life in the first place. Put that in your USB port and choke on it.
Captain Jean Luc Picard can keep his e-books. He’s owns a starship, after all. Invent a replicator that can zap me up a cup of Japanese sencha while I’m reading the latest from Tad Williams or Stephen King and we can talk.