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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ebooks Versus Books: A Book Lover's Dilemma

I am amazed at the many changes in technology during my own lifetime. Growing up in the 70's and 80's who would have even thought of sending someone an e-mail or texting a friend via a cell phone? It seemed virtually impossible. Especially when considering an cell phone in the 80's was about as big as a shoe box. At graduation in 1992 from Wayne State University, the hype was the internet and how it would change libraries forever. Indeed it has, some for the good and some for the bad. Let's be honest, I wouldn't be here pondering this question if it were not for the ease of communicating through a blog. While libraries have gone through major changes it seems that books are on the verge of a tipping point. That is the moment when the world changes with the birth of a technological advance. The news last week was buzzing with excitement over the new iPad. this product will rival the Kindle II, the Sony reader and the Nook. Versions of different types of electronic books. Now the race is on to see which will dominate the field. Personally, I'm not quite sure that any of them will be able to replace my need for a good book.

Do not make the mistake that I am like the Unabomber who maintained that a techno-industrial society would take away one's freedom I like technology because it has made many of the things I use to do manually easier. For example, typing. When I was in high school I used so much whiteout that the company who made the product should have made me their poster child r given me shares in the company as a reward for being their best customer. I still own a typewriter but give me my Mac when it comes to typing up letters, articles and so forth. Technology changes an idea or product because there is a need for a change. Typewriter to computer made a lot of sense to me. Books to a electronic reader? The need for change did not present itself to me immediately. Even now, the question of why still lingers.

Making a list of pros and cons of a an ereader, the pros are strong for certain types of formats or sources of information. For example, ereaders should be good for newspapers and magazines. It would be nice not to have a stack of newspapers waiting to be recycled every week. The ereaders would make a wonderful substitute to the heavy backpacks that students carry filled with books of forty pounds or more. It will be interesting to see if Professors will be able to highlight information that they deem important and sync it to their students’ ereader or iPad. That would be wonderful. so there is value in an ereader.

However, when it comes to leisure reading, this is where the problem creeps in for me. I love my books. They are like security blankets. Everything else in my life has gone digital. Can’t there be one thing left untouched? It is very difficult for me to conceive of getting all warm and comfy with an ereader, with my tea and begin a great story that will allow me to drift away for hours. Novels and books are personal to me because I get involved in the lives of Doctor Zhivago and his true love Larissa. or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. These characters’ lives with all their trials and triumphs warms the spirit. To think that they will now be on a flat screen which may look like a book but it can not replace the textual feeling of the book. As a matter of fact, it seems computers are devoid of humanity. Literature is full of humanity and it is as if the computer will snuff out the humanity. It seems silly to say I know, but perhaps when radio plays were replaced by television the audience felt the same way I do about books. Once the words were joined with picture, the audience lost the use of imagination. The tube took away the intimacy of the voice. Will the ereader take away the intimacy of the printed word? There is a possibility that it will. Leaving a terrible void for those who love to read but can’t find the joy of the intimate connection with the characters. The only way to find out is to check out a Kindle II at my local library.
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