It must be so confusing, frustrating and annoying for the manufacturers. There they are, every year, conjuring up another exciting product for us. And there we are, every year, readers and critics united, complaining about it, refusing to buy it, shaking our collective fists in fury at the manufacturers’ audacity in even offering it up for our consumption. I’m talking, of course, about the e-book reader, the electronic reading device that everyone – at least if you believe the articles – is petrified will replace the beautiful, cheap and convenient book.
Another such device has just come on the market. And like the last one and the one before that, this is the gadget that manufacturers hope will revolutionise the books industry and finally beat that pesky Gutenberg into second place. This year’s model is called the Kindle (reportedly named to evoke “the crackling kindle of knowledge”) and it’s produced by Amazon. While managing to be the size of your average paperback, this baby has more features than a glossy magazine.
Although the Kindle will sell for a pricey $399, buyers will get far more than just the capacity to read shelf loads of books on the machine. The Kindle allows you to change the book’s font size, search within the book for a phrase or name and make notes on the device while you’re reading. Most crucially, the Kindle grants you automatic wireless connectivity, which means that, in addition to downloading books, you can access magazines, blogs and newspapers as well. The Kindle also makes use of E Ink, a breakthrough technology that is easier on the eyes. And that’s not the end of its pleasures. From the sounds of the spec, you could probably power a trip to Mars from the Kindle, if you felt like it.
So why is everyone so busy declaring that we won’t buy it or any
e-reader – not now, not ever? The answer may lie in something the
author E. Annie Proulx said in 1994. “Nobody is going to sit down and
read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever.” Unpleasant as it might
be to admit it, while the manufacturers have been powering ahead,
coming up with ever dinkier e-reading possibilities, it seems as
though the rest of us have been guilty of the last thing you’d guess
possible from a bunch of book-lovers – a lack of imagination.
To a large extent, sentiment seems to be casting a dangerous smoke
screen over the pertinent issues. Instead of acknowledging that the
arrival of the e-book – at least in its more advanced versions – could
re-energise the faltering books industry, under threat from computer
games, television and the internet, bibliophiles been spending their
time waxing lyrical, and penning pithy, nostalgic articles about the
smell, feel and general wondrousness of the humble book. Publishers,
with their general distrust of technology hampering them, have done
little to encourage them to change their minds.
“Books are the last bastion of analogue,” Jeff Bezos of Amazon told
Newsweek recently. “Music and video have been digital for a long time,
and short-form reading has been digitised, beginning with the early
Web. But long-form reading really hasn’t.” Books are next in line for
the revolution. Instead of grumbling about what we might lose, we
should start thinking about what we might stand to gain.