There has been much talk about the cybersphere with the release of Apple’s new iPad. Some of that talk has reflected the views of people who believe the days of print materials are numbered. And please don’t mistakenly assume that because I am a librarian, I would shed tears over such a loss.
From the perspective of historical preservation, appreciation of literature, and a general love of books, I would certainly miss holding a book in my hand — the smell and texture of the pages, the feeling of turning each one with my fingers, and the weight of the object in my hand.
Nevertheless, I recognize that a change must come. Printing anything on paper is destroying our environment, the only earth we have. Something must replace the traditional book, but the real question here is whether e-book readers like Amazon’s Kindle or over-glorified e-book readers like the new iPad are the answer to this dilemma. I think not.
There are two main problems with this theory. The first is cost. While there may be future devices that are inexpensive and easily distributable, these devices are not. As much as Apple fanboys would have you believe that everyone and their mama is going out to buy an iPad, that simply is not the case. If people have to pay more or even as much for a reading device as they do for mobile service or cable television, people will simply stop reading.
The second problem is format. Digital media is currently laced with poison (i.e. DRM). It is a hassle that you cannot share your e-books with others as easily as you would shared a print book. It is ridiculous that libraries cannot do this, and until they can, e-books will always be second-rate. The format problem is also reflected in the devices themselves. No matter how thin they get, they are not going to replace the look and feel of a real book.
I believe the real solution is something like I saw on Caprica: a page that looks and feels like paper but is electronic. We have the ability to synthesize almost anything these days. I am lactose intolerant but can eat soy cheese and hardly notice the difference. Paper can be synthesized and so can book covers that are stronger and more resilient than the current offerings. Imagine hold a book that looks and feels just like a real book, but you can press a button when you are finished reading and turn it into the book’s sequel.
I am not writing this because of nostalgia or my love of books but just based on my observation of library patrons and people in general. I believe that until we reach the point where the benefits of e-books outweigh the inconveniences and high cost, print books are safe.