I have been waiting for electronic books my whole life.  I've always been a big sci-fi fan, and it only made sense to me that e-books would be superior in every way to their paper counterparts.  The very first episode of Star Trek made with Captain Kirk, which first aired the day my little sister was born, showed characters reading e-books and other documents.  Granted, in that particular episode they were reading relatively bulky monitors attached to the wall, rather than what we would call an e-reader or tablet, but in later episodes handheld tablets are used, some of which were touch-sensitive, and others which used a stylus.  The monitors worked with removable cards, referred to as "tapes", although it was not clear whether they contained literal tape inside, and sometimes documents are transferred directly from the ship's computer.  There are plenty of other works of science fiction which also depict e-books.

The first time I saw a dedicated e-book reader in real life was about 20 years ago, when I was on a flight sitting next to a man using a prototype, which he said the company he worked for was developing.  I don't know whatever happened to that particular device, but I know that a number of portable e-book readers have been produced over the years, which did not succeed for various reasons.  E-books themselves, however, could be read on personal computers, and as laptop computers became smaller, they became more convenient for reading e-books, until dedicated reading devices and tablets finally made e-books more convenient than the paper kind.

I always knew that this day would come.  Others were more doubtful.  I don't know how many times over the years that I heard people complain, even now, that e-books could not provide the same experience as paper books, the same texture and smell and the physical action of turning the pages, that reading electronic displays are too tiresome, etc.  Some of these criticisms were merely technological, and could be solved with innovations such as e-ink.  Others were rooted in sentimentality for superfluous features of the old medium, which those who will grow up with e-books will not share.  Do we today miss the characteristics of scrolls and hand-written parchment, or of clay tablets?  No, because most of us today have no experience with those things, and would consider it perverse to prefer them.  Likewise, our descendants will not recognize the desirability of paper books, except perhaps as antique collectibles.

I have always found paper books to be less than optimal.  They tended to be heavy, often heavier than my iPad today.  They were also bound, so that you had to prop them open, lest they close or change pages by themselves, and then you had to worry about damaging the spine.  And once they closed, you would lose your place if you did not have a bookmark.  It was cumbersome to have to flip through hundreds of pages.  E-book haters talk about snuggling in bed with paper books, but I always found them to be poor bedtime companions.  Plus, you cannot read them without a light!

So I am thrilled that the technology has finally caught up with sci-fi.  What I find irritating is that many people confuse the content with the medium.  For many, the word "book" refers strictly to bound leaves of paper.  However, there were books before it was common to write them on codices, and there will be after paper is gone.  A book is the words that are written on the paper, on digital medium, or other media such as parchment, clay or stone, and is independent of the medium, itself.  Remember, Homer did not write on paper; he could not even see!  But you can now download his works as e-books.  Books will live on, longer than paper will.

MJD 56015.026

No comments:

Post a Comment