09 February 2009

But how will I write in the margins?

Last week, Ars Technica posted an article by John Siracusa on the past, present, and future of electronic readers. It's exhaustive. And long. Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan pulled out this excerpt from Siracusa's article, which does the best job of explaining the obstacles facing the transition from hard copy books to electronic readers:

If you remain unconvinced, here's one final exercise, in the grand tradition of a particular family of Internet analogies. Take all of your arguments against the inevitability of e-books and substitute the word "horse" for "book" and the word "car" for "e-book." Here are a few examples to whet your appetite for the (really) inevitable debate in the discussion section at the end of this article.

"Books will never go away." True! Horses have not gone away either.

"Books have advantages over e-books that will never be overcome." True! Horses can travel over rough terrain that no car can navigate. Paved roads don't go everywhere, nor should they.

"Books provide sensory/sentimental/sensual experiences that e-books can't match." True! Cars just can't match the experience of caring for and riding a horse: the smells, the textures, the sensations, the companionship with another living being.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn't. I'm sure plenty of people swore they would never ride in or operate a "horseless carriage"—and they never did! And then they died.
Like I said, the article is a bit long, but if you're interested in the subject, it's worth the read. (There is a nice section on why Apple hasn't gotten into the e-reader market on page 5.)

I think this conversion to digital reading is inevitable, and I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. That being said, I'm always going to keep hard copies of books I like around (and probably quite a few copies of books I don't like as well). Just like there is something about the crackle and fizz of vinyl, there is something about the feel and smell of a book. And I hear you fellow English majors: what about marginalia? But I wouldn't mind having a portable device to carry around multiple books or periodicals on trips.

The technology will probably evolve beyond what I can see before it becomes as commercially viable as the iPod, perhaps allowing all media (movies, books, music, television, etc.) to fit on one handy little gadget.

Related: And as everyone knows, Amazon released the Kindle 2 yesterday! Check out the Ars Technica review.

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