You can spend a lot of time on ‘technology’ reading about, well, technology. Lots of talk about how things are different now, hand-wringing about cell phone manners (hot topic 6 years ago), dismay over a generation of texters who are sure to wind up socially inept, and too many others to list. Emily Post has a website now with a whole section on communication and technology, there is a cadre of e-readers where almost none existed a decade ago, and I love streaming videos and using SugarSync or Dropbox to manage my files. The times, they are a-changin’, but really, haven’t they always been?
I’m sure when Gutenberg starting cranking out Bibles in the 1450′s, there may have been a few monks questioning whether they should throw all their efforts into wine production and hang up their quills. It ultimately marked the end of a largely oral tradition, and the beginning of more literate citizens and a wider sharing of knowledge.
In the circles I move in (which are some pretty slow, old circles), there is still a good deal of ‘wow’ factor about technology in general and, ultimately, about how it is ruining everything. I love technology: my computer, my phone, all manner of gadgetry, and I like to have a little skill in using it all. I like servers and facebook equally, but I do not like excel. I embrace this stuff, for the most part, and I seek it out. But I couldn’t see the appeal of e-readers at first.
E-readers seemed silly to me. Why would I carry a device around to read on when I could just carry a book? Four years ago, my neighbor proudly showed me hers and reported something about how long you could read before charging it. WHAT? Why would I carry something around that I had to charge when I could just carry a book? Then came a family car trip down the coast of California a couple of summers ago with a book-eating teenager. I bought him a nook e-reader on the way back home because it was hard to keep him supplied since book stores were so hard to find. An e-reader for him meant that all we needed was a wireless connection and he could buy a new book. He could even stock up and buy two. It was a very worthwhile purchase, especially since we are minimalist at home: we have a limited number of bookshelves and if something comes in, something goes out. We’re not collectors.
I hear some people say they could never give up real books, and some say they would never have them again. I love what other people love about books: the smell, the look, the feel. I like to see them on the shelf, except when they make me feel guilty about not paying attention to them. Trips to the bookstore are an event and an indulgence.
When it comes to ‘books or e-readers’, I don’t see it as a choice: I see it as two different media, and that each serves a slightly different purpose. Some books are just better electronically because you can look up words and footnotes with ease, or highlight and bookmark passages and find them again without a bunch of dog-eared pages and sticky notes. Your Dickens adventure will never be the same in paper once you’ve enjoyed it electronically. You can share your e-books, change the font size or the page color, and read them in bed at night without disturbing your snoozing bed neighbor. Big books are better in bytes. I love my e-reader because I can also watch movies on it. That pushed me over the edge: having a book and movies in one book-sized package was an appealing travel option. Of course, as a gadget lover, I now have a phone that can do all that, but the reader is good for those times I don’t want to bring a phone. Yes, I spend time without my phone, just like in olden tymes.
Then there are beautiful books and reference books. These are books you keep taking off the shelf to look at or conjugate verbs with. An e-book can’t always capture that beauty, yet sometimes it enhances it. It’s my personal preference to have beautiful books in the flesh only. I like to get physical with my reference books, too. Flipping through those pages to find something is just easier to me than trying to search through e-pages. With present technology, I can’t see becoming completely bookless just yet. Years ago, my husband and I had to cut a book in half because, although it was mine and I started reading it first, he began reading it after I read some of it aloud. I had to hurry to the halfway mark and cut the book in half so he could have the first segment and I could have the remainder. It was an 800 page book and he couldn’t wait for me to finish it. This wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if we’d shared it on an e-reader. Or so I imagine, since this has been my life experience with books. But e-reader kids will have many fond memories of their time spent with a book. Those memories will just be different.