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Books: ebooks and the disposable society (a commentary)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a more in-depth take on a subject we touched on a while back.
People age, things don’t. At least it’s hard to think of them as aging in the same way we do. Sure there is deterioration and some stuff is just cheap and falls apart, but for the most part, the things we have outlast their use. It’s the reason we have thrifts stores and yard sales and massive junk piles. Clothes are bought and sold by season. Cell phones need to last only until your contract is up or the next model comes out.So who cares if books only exist in clouds, to be downloaded at will?
I’m talking about e-readers, because I like to read, and because technology is changing the way we access information in all forms and because of the book (and actual, physical one, a paperback) I pulled off my shelf last night.
It was “The Wanderer” by Henri Alain-Fourneir, in English translated from French and first released in 1923. My copy was published in 1954 and may well be the oldest thing I own.Think on that. Now, I have no nostalgic attachment to this book. I got it from an old English professor during a mass weeding of his library before he moved back east. It was one of many. There is nothing magic in its form. In fact, the story would read as well— maybe better— on a high-contrast E Ink screen.
Still, this book has existed on this earth for close to 60 years, and unless I destroy it or throw it in the trash, it might exist for another 60 (I say without really knowing the compositional breakdown period for paper).To me, that’s f’in cool.
I realize I am in the minority, that we are a disposable society that wants our good cheap and plentiful and right. Now.
E-books are now. Ignoring them makes me a luddite and I concede that minus the things-are-moving-too-fast, longing-for-simple-times fear of it all, e-readers are pretty darn awesome. A portable, inexpensive and easy to read way to get an endless supply of titles at your fingertips? For an avid reader, that sounds like heaven.
So, it makes sense that 1/4 of respondents in a Book Industry Study Group report they have transitioned to digital devices, and that the U.S. adoption rate for ebooks now stands around 25 percent. Of course, print books have declined 25 percent this year. E-books are cheaper to produce and more convenient to consume. Of course electronic books are the fastest-growing segment of the book-publishing industry, given that unknown authors now have an easy means by which to be published. And let’s be honest, there were close to 300,000 new books printed in 2009 and it’s a safe bet that most of them won’t be read or remembered in 60 years. They probably don’t deserve to be. Why waste the paper and space. I say to myself, “score one for the e-reader.”
Then I sit down with my book. And think about how it is more than just the story contained within. The things we own compose a collected history of who we are — and not just as individuals. As the famed watch maker says: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
A book isn’t a watch, but you get the point.