Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Me and My Ereader

I bought an ereader a couple of weeks back and almost immediately grew very attached to it. I'm definitely sold. Ereaders are still very controversial among some bookish people (many librarians, for example) who see them as a harbinger of the end of life-as-we-know-it. Meanwhile tech-ish people see them as limited and boring (compared, say, to an ipad).

I've encountered both these responses. And I think they're both right, in their way. The trend in book sales is very clear. Ebooks are taking a larger and larger chunk of the market. In other words, the market for printed books is shrinking drastically. The librarians are right. We're entering a new era for readers, and that is a sad thing for lovers of books. I get that.

But the tech-ish ones are right too. Ereaders feel like old technology already. Most of them are black-and-white only, so as a platform for images they actually represent a significant step backward from traditonal printing (so far). That they do only one thing well--provide a platform for the printed word--makes them more akin (in a way) to washing machines than to digital technology generally.

I mean, you can't play colorful interactive games on them, check your email (not yet anyway), text your friends, or map your route to that funky now cafe downtown. But most of the people I've encountered who are bored by the whole concept of the ereader are probably not people who would consider sitting down and reading a 700 page tome. They're multi-tasking people who are tied to their smart phones and ipads, eager to download the next great application. But the very reason they're disinterested in ereaders is exactly what makes ereaders appealing to me.

Ereaders are quiet little un-busy machines, focused on their one simple task. They're not dazzling. They're not really impressive in the way that many new gadgets are. They're for readers--people who run their eyes along endless strings of text for hours on end. In other words, they specialize in providing a platform for long-term digital reading, not for digital flitting from one app to another. That's why they already feel like old technology. They feel, in many ways, like a book! They're about focus, not versatility. They're not flashy, but capable of conveying to the mind of the user the thoughts, mental images, and linguistic engagement, that all authors intend.

I have no doubt that the manufacturers will continue to add new levels of interactivity to these devices (The Nook Color, for example, which advertises itself as something that you can play Angry Birds on . . . whoopee!). But that is to mar the beautiful simplicity of the device. Just give me a good book, whether printed or digital, any day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i also like the simplicity of the current design.