At BookPage, we have a Nook Color and a Kindle at our office, both of which I have used extensively. And I usually have a book or two on my iPhone. I like the convenience of reading digitally enough to consider purchasing a dedicated e-reader of my own. But I’ve been hesitant to take the plunge. A recent essay by Mark O’Connell on The Millions does a beautiful job of explaining some of the conflicts a reader might feel when going digital. First, he outlines the positives.
There is, obviously, something to be said for being able to walk around with the complete works of Tolstoy on your person at all times without fear of collapsed vertebrae or public ridicule. There is also, just as obviously, something to be said for having immediate access to a vast, intangible warehouse of books from which you can choose, on a whim, to purchase anything and begin reading it straight away.
But he describes the slightly sinister qualities of the e-reader equally well, using Borges as context.
No page is its first page; no page is its last. . . . [I]t has the uncanny, shape-shifting potential to encompass all of them, to embody them all both individually and as a whole. Unsettlingly, it makes all those other books appear suddenly unnecessary, superfluous, seeming to haunt them with the imminent prospect of their own redundancy.
The piece gradually evolves into a sort of elegy for the book.
The insatiable desire for ever more and ever newer forms of convenience that drives our global economy and our technological culture leaves a scattered trail of obsolescence in its wake. As much as I don’t want my bookshelves to become part of this trail of obsolescence, I can already see early warning signs of my own desire for convenience — for instantly getting what I want, for not having to deal with mere objects in all their cumbersome actuality — beginning to outrank my love of the book as a physical thing.
This sentiment resonated with me, and is perhaps one of the reasons that I haven’t brought myself to click that “buy” button on an e-reader. (Well, that, and hints that a Kindle 4 might be hitting shelves this fall. Speaking of obsolescence…)
I could go on quoting, but you should really click over and read the whole piece.
Overall I don’t think that ebooks are a bad thing—as one of the many intelligent comments on O’Connell’s essay points out, for one, they have the potential to offer many more people access to many more books (provided they can spring for a digital device to read them on). And hey, if you’re really nostalgic for the book form, you can purchase a beautiful vintage book e-reader cover, which, as the seller says, “shows you still appreciate the real thing!”
Where do you stand on the digital divide?
p.s. Today is Borges’ 112th birthday — check out the Google doodle.