Archive for December, 2009


Technology, ereaders and Plain Ol’ Books

From all reports this holiday season, electronics will be the big purchase item this year — cell phones, new computers, xboxes, wii’s and yes, ereaders. So many folks have come into the store and asked about how they think the ereader will affect us this year that I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and really think this thing out!

Having come from a technology background myself (web design) and far from a luddite, I’ll be the first one to admit that I really like technology and gadgets. I really love my iPhone; the simplicity is great, and it does pretty much everything I would ever want and more. What I really love about it is the fact that I could get rid of 3 other gadgets.

I would guess that if I wanted to read books online, I would want to do it with my iphone; I really hate carrying around extra weight that needs a plug or could break. That said, I can really understand why folks might want to buy an ereader. Especially if you are a student and have 300 pounds worth of textbooks, I would imagine that having a single reader that allows you to search on text and weighs a fraction of that would be a real boon. I can also see folks who travel frequently (and who have only short periods of “down time”) liking a single device to put all their various texts on might satisfy that requirement for simplicity. I myself do like to read newspapers and short magazine articles online (another problem for the periodical industry to solve), and electronic, real-time access is a key attraction to reading news. Blogs, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter – all short content – are perfect online reading and viewing.

For the life of me, however, I cannot get excited about reading a full-length novel in an electronic format. In the same way that I like getting short news stories or articles quickly online and then getting back to multitasking, I love the immersive experience of a physical book. Reading books is an escape from the millions of distractions we have in this twitterfied, gadget-centric world, and when I do read, I choose to put aside the technology and let my mind focus on the story. And the tactile experience of the paper, the cover art, the lettering, the smell of the book is every bit as much a part of falling into the story.

Not everyone thinks the way I do obviously, as ereaders have been selling like hotcakes this year. Still, I wonder if down the road, after the newness has worn off, some of those folks will find themselves yearning again for the physical book.

It’s interesting – in a few conversations I’ve had about downloadable music lately, I think this feeling is already occurring. We have access to more music than ever, and can get new albums with a push of the button. But I keep hearing people say that they listen to music less now. That they forget they have an album buried deep in their hard drive somewhere. That they miss the cover art, the liner notes of an old LP, the special care they took with the record when they pulled it out of the sleeve, the excitement they feel as they take the record out the packaging. They miss the tactile experience of the music. And vinyl records are even staging something of a comeback. 

Strange, eh? You’d think, “it’s music – there is no tactile experience – the only thing you’re using is your ears.” Wrong. Any rock concert goer will tell you that the light show, the art, the video screens, the stage performance of the musicians, the clothes they are wearing, the sweat you feel as you bounce up and down is every bit as much a part of the experience as listening to that album.

As human beings, I think we yearn to use all our senses, and as much as I like gadgets, I have to say that sometimes, for some things, gadgets create an antiseptic experience that frustrates that need. If we were robots and needed “just the facts ma’am,” the ereader would be perfect. The worst part about an ereader is that you can’t just throw it against the wall when the book really sucks.

But back to the original question about how it will affect us. I’m guessing that ereaders will fall into line with the rest of the ways we have of getting books, which is a good thing. We now have ereaders, audio books (downloadable and on CD), and just plain ol’ books – all great ways to read.  At the end of the day, however, I think the paper book will be with us for a good long while.

 Happy Holidays all!

 Gilbert Pili