Posts Tagged ‘e-reader’

What Good Are Printed Books? Here We Go Again…

October 26, 2010

Dear Readers, I ask you, what good are printed books?

This question grows old, I agree, after we spent weeks addressing it on this very site.  Still, a recent spate of articles has sent it chasing round my brain, so here we are again.

EXHIBIT A: “The Fate of the Book” in The Chronicle Review

Article One: William Germano’s provocative title “What Are Books Good For?” leads to the less provocative claim that even inside the “knowledge machine” of a digital text, the codex remains as a “ghost-like” presence.  The book, in other words, once “freed of its materiality,” yet lives.

Okay, maybe I’m a little provoked.  But hold that thought.

Article Two: “The Cult of the Book—and Why it Must End” by Jeffrey R. Di Leo.

Throwing around words like “cult” and “myth” is a dirty rhetorical gambit.  But Di Leo does it repeatedly, which makes me want to just kick him in the shins.

In his favor, Di Leo argues that digital multi-media offers exciting prospects for hybrid forms that should be valued by the academy.  Who could disagree?

But if Professor Di Leo wants to root out the cult of the mythic book, he’s going to have to hire meatier thugs than these three 90-pound weaklings: “Digital books are more affordable, accessible, and environmentally friendly.”

The Old One-Two-Three Knock-Out Punch, or What happens Your Opponent Brings His Own Strawmen to the Fight

Books on a shelf

Also not an e-book

More environmentally friendly? Having dispelled Di Leo’s cult-like myth before, I will repeat only briefly that e-readers are not made of pixie wings, and don’t run on dreams.  In fact, e-readers are MORE environmentally destructive than mowing down trees.  I’m tired.  YOU look up the environmental and human cost of manufacturing, transporting, running and disposing of the hardware required for e-media. Multiply that by the speed of planned obsolescence.  Then look up the data on the escalating CO2 emissions from server farms and weep.

More affordable? Affordability doesn’t end at the bottom of our pockets.  It ends when we’ve counted all the costs.  And costs to the planet (see above) are ultimately costs to our own well-being.  Perhaps on his next sabbatical, Professor Di Leo might invest in a good course on ecoliteracy, and another on environmental justice.

More accessible?  To whom? According to George Lucas’ Edutopia, half (HALF) the households in the U.S. have no internet access at home.  How many of those families can afford reading gadgets?  Globally, the picture’s even worse.

But Wait, There’s More

Here’s the kicker: Professor Di Leo writes that “Words may look better in print, and a book may feel better in your hands than a Kindle or an iPad, but the words are the same.”

Well, yes, and if I scrawled Ulysses on Dublin walls with the rusty point of a two-penny nail, I could say pretty much the same thing: The “words may look better in print, and a book may feel better in your hands…but the words are the same.” (more…)


An E-Book is Not a Book, In Which I Launch the Slow Book Movement

April 2, 2010

So everyone’s all a-twitter about e-books. And why not? As a species, we’re like magpies, squawkily flocking from one over-hyped shiny new thing to the next.  Gunpowder? Railroads? Lightbulb? Telegraph? Telephone? Airplanes? E-mail?  Shiny!  Marry the age of consumerism with the age of gadgets and the pace e-quickens. Every six months now, someone tosses a new shiny thing out there into the public square, and we’re all over it like pigeons on popcorn.   Ooh, ooh ipod, ilike, iphone, iwant, ipad, ineed, gimme that shiny new thing.

I’m not a saboteur, much.  I Twitter, I FB, I LMAO at times.   In fact, I was watching a video just the other day touting all the great things that an e-reader can do.   Can’t find the link, sorry. But its promises were great: a little red dot would follow my reading progress, and when I hit the word “bird,” say, up would pop a little picture of the bird in the margin. Wow! Or if I might want to know what a word meant, I could just click a doo-hickey and up would pop the definition. Or a voice would tell me how to pronounce a word! I have to confess that for a moment I was nearly taken in.

But what if I wanted to just stare at the little bird picture for awhile before I even started to read the page? What if I wanted to flip through the pages to look at all the little pictures before I even started to read the book? And why should everything be so E-Z?

Ah, the pleasures to be found in looking up words in a, you know, “physical” dictionary. Sure, I can click on the little button, but if I look up, say, “relevant” in my Random House Webster’s College, I get to not only look at the picture on the page anytime I like (which is a drawing of “relief”), but I get to visit the neighbors: “relentless,” “reliable” and “relic.” All of which seem relevant to this here blog post.

(On the very same page of my dictionary, I also find the word “relaxin,” which I learn is a “polypeptide hormone” but which I also hope describes my afternoon plans.) (more…)