Tuesday, June 29, 2010

E-books. What Do You Think?


This past weekend, I did something I’ve wanted to do since high school, but for reasons ranging from “meh” to “I’ll get to it eventually,” it never happened.

What did I do?

I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Gold-Bug.”

A good story, if you’re into cryptanalysis, which I could get into. I was more interested in reading it because, hey, it’s a classic short story by an author I really enjoy.

Why blog about this, you may ask? Well, it’s because I read it from an e-book. A freebie I have of Poe’s works on my iPod Touch. And it’s not that I don’t have the story in any other form – I’ve had “the Collected Works of Poe” on my bookshelf since high school. The book is new. Pristine. I’m sure I’ve cracked the spine to read “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Masque of the Red Death,” but everything else, aside from “The Raven” has always been on my to-do list.

I have to wonder: Did having thee-book make it easier to read? Here are the circumstances: Shortly before bedtime, I was upstairs, fresh bowl of popcorn ready. I was looking for something to read. The paperback I’m currently reading is downstairs. Feeling too lazy to go get it. So out comes the iPod Touch. I go to Poe. I open the first volume and there it is, “The Gold-Bug.” I read. And read. And read. I enjoyed it.

Would I have enjoyed it as much if I’d gone downstairs and gotten the hard copy? Probably. The e-book was a convenience, so that’s the form in which I read it.

Now, if I’d had to pay for that e-book compilation, it wouldn’t have happened. Poe’s marvelous story would still be unread, because, hey, I have Asterix and Obelix books downstairs too. But I got this one for free. And will continue reading it. And paperback books. And hard-cover books, because I like to read, no matter the form the book takes.

Jan Swofford, writing at Slate.com, seems to argue that e-books aren’t going to take over the world any time soon because – I think – he believes, as probably would Marshall McLuhan would, that e-books are a cold medium, cold as television or the telephone, because they don’t take, as McLuhan says, one sense into “high definition.”

I’m not so sure I agree with that. I can become as mentally absorbed in a good movie as I can in a good book – and it’s not because film or television have any special hypnotic effect. I just get caught up in the stories, same as I do in print.

Part of Swofford’s problem is that he falls back on the worn clichés that books are more physical than e-books. Though I have preached the physical and spiritual attraction of real books in the past, I'm not sure I believe it:
So real books and e-books will coexist. That has happened time and again with other new technologies that were prophesied to kill off old ones. Autos didn't wipe out horses. Movies didn't finish theater. TV didn't destroy movies. E-books won't destroy paper and ink. The Internet and e-books may set back print media for a while, and they may claim a larger audience in the end. But a lot of people who care about reading will want the feel, the smell, the warmth, the deeper intellectual, emotional, and spiritual involvement of print.
It’s all in what you’re used to. E-books can feel just as real. I felt as absorbed and as compelled to read further in “The Gold-Bug” in e-book form as I would have in printed form – I can tell. Because when I drop a “real” book, I immediately pick it up again and fly to find my place before the mesmers leave the brain. I brushed against a bad spot on my iPod Touch screen and accidentally went back to the table of contents in my e-book, and did the same kind of scrambling to get back to where I was in the story.

3 comments:

carl g said...

I just went to the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) conference. It was stunning. Really. I've seen the future. I just wrote up a report on it for my admin here. I'll post on it today on my blog and email you the full thing.

dan said...

can i tell you my idea ideas about reading vs what i call "screening" and why reading is superior to screening? would you dare blog about my ideas pro or con? take a ook here. and write me at danbloom AT gmail dot com

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xpN78-cJP0

danny bloom, Tufts 1971

dan said...

can i tell you my idea ideas about reading vs what i call "screening" and why reading is superior to screening? would you dare blog about my ideas pro or con? take a ook here. and write me at danbloom AT gmail dot com

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xpN78-cJP0

danny bloom, Tufts 1971