I have a Kindle and I love it. It sits on my bedside table, another book among the stack of books I’m reading, and it doesn’t look out of place. But the hot debate at the moment is whether e-books will put an end to paper books. It’s very easy to proclaim the end of the road for the book – technology is increasingly present in almost every part of our lives – but I hate the tendency to see this as a bad thing.
In many of the discussions around this topic there’s a temptation to see the book as warm, welcoming and personal, whilst computers and e-readers are portrayed as cold and inhuman. Inhuman? The internet is a vast network connecting millions of people all over the world – how can this be called inhuman?
This is not to say that books aren’t all the things people say they are. I agree wholeheartedly that the book as an object can be beautiful, that the feeling of turning a page, or smelling the paper, is part of the experience of reading. And it’s for these reasons that there will always be a market for books – people are always going to want to own them, and hold them, and keep them around the house. Perhaps in future this will happen on a smaller scale.
I have a vinyl collection and an iPod. When vinyl became essentially redundant technology it did not die out and, recently, it has been experiencing a resurge in popularity. Similarly, the people who love books for what they are made of, as much as for what they contain, will continue to buy them. I know I will. And I will also use my Kindle.
E-readers have a multitude of uses. If you have an internet connection, you can download virtually any book you want in seconds. There are no pages to get stained or torn on the daily commute. As the technology becomes more widespread students won’t need to cart around back-breaking numbers of textbooks. Information manuals and other texts that are not desirable as objects, do not have to take up precious shelf-space. You can travel all over the world, with your entire library in your bag, and hardly feel the weight of it.
But in my opinion, the crux of in this whole debate is that – really – the means by which we read is unimportant. What matters is that we read. And we do, in our billions.
The demand for stories has not lessened with the rise of the e-reader. If anything, it has grown. Perhaps people who would not otherwise have picked up a book, are now turning on a Kindle. Children who have been brought up in a technological age may be attracted to reading from a screen, more than a page. And, I think, the e-reader can also be a beautiful object.
So I don’t believe that e-readers spell the end of books, and we need to stop seeing technology as inhuman. This is just one more step towards making all books available to all people, anywhere, at any time. What could be more human than that?
– gildius –