E-books are beginning to tempt me

Posted on March 21, 2007

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And that’s something I never thought I’d say. Generally I haven’t traditionally enjoyed reading from a screen, but book reader displays are getting higher and higher in resolution, and I have a feeling it won’t be so very long before publishers are going to be faced with a pretty persuasive commercial and environmental argument that is going question the viability of traditional paper books.

That’s a scenario that gives me the heebies. I love the physicality of books, the feel of the pages, the smell of the paper, the design of the whole package from cover art to typeface. Always have done. Physical books are things that I just want to have, and the fact that I’ve been dragging my heels over getting those five crates down to the charity shop to complete the literature side of our declutter hasn’t gone unremarked. When I was a kid I always wanted a library in my house, a room lined floor to ceiling with books, even on the door. I know now that it’s not going to happen. It’s just not practical in a flat in Glasgow – but more than that, along with the rest of the world, I sense that I’m moving away from the physical book.

Cory Doctorow’s article in the recent issue of Locus put this in a kind of perspective. He’s right, much though I protest to not liking reading from a screen, I do it for hours every day. But for my non-work reading I don’t do it sitting at my desk: I do it on the bus, on the train, sometimes (if it’s really good story) walking down the street; I do it curled up in unnatural positions on the sofa, I do it in bed, and I do it a lot in the bath (which is, a real issue – I’m usually very careful, but splashes do occur and I’ve (only) once actually dropped a paperback in the water, and there’s an obvious difference between having to shell out another £6.99 for a pb and buying a new reader and suffering mild electric shock) All that said, as soon as they produce an affordable device that fits into my preferred leisure reading model, I think I’ll likely make the switch.

It’s a way off yet, though. I love technology, and living in a world that offers you something new every two or three years, but I’m a second wave adopter. I’m usually skeptical of new technologies until I can see how they’ll fit the way I want to use them, and then I go for them big time. This is related to a natural cautiousness on my part, but it’s got a couple of advantages. The first is that I don’t own anything as gloriously daft as laser disk player, but the bigger advantage is that new gizmos usually have to have the corners buffed off them by the general public before the gap between what the marketeers think people are going to want from a device and what people will actually use it for narrows to the point where you actually get something that’s useful.

Part of me’s looking forward to it greatly. Moving to MP3s for my music has revolutionalised my life. Having a device that does the same for my book collection will be amazing.

Giving up on my library though, it’s like giving up on a dream.

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Posted in: Books, Technology