Can you tell I’m not thrilled about books going digital? I tried to ignore it, but now that the Kindle2 has been unveiled I must face my fears. Like everything, this has its pros and cons I suppose. I am impressed that books have held out for so long, and I think they’ll hold out longer than the other other mediums.
I understand why music and movies went digital so quickly. Music is a sound. The experience comes from listening. We’ll take the sound from wherever—a record player, a disc man, a boom box. And, of course, if you can promise that I’ll be able to hold 1,000 songs in the palm of my hand then, yes, I’ll take it. Same with movies. We just want to watch them. We don’t care about the mechanism that motivates the moving picture—VHS or DVD player. Photographs too, it’s the image that counts. Digital made all of these things a little easier . . .
But a book is different. Much of the reading experience itself comes from holding a book. I can’t read a book without a pen in my hand. I like to underline passages that move me and words that I love or that I don’t know the meaning of and want to look up later. I like to dog-ear pages so that I can go back to them later. And when the book is done then you place it on your shelf like a trophy. When you have a dinner party, your guests can say, “Oh I read War and Peace, too.” It’s a conversation piece. It’s a book.
I also love books (and magazines and letters) because every now and then we need to step away from our computers. We need to fix our eyes on something that isn’t bright and neon. We need to teach ourselves how to focus on one thing again rather than jump from one article that hyper links to another article and have an e-mail appear and interrupt reading that article. We’re all ADD when we’re online.
The tangibility of books is also a major factor. If a meteor hits the earth tomorrow, then the aliens who find our ghost-planet will look at a Kindle and have no idea what it is. If they come across books, however, then there’s a language to study. There are things to learn. Our way of life has been preserved on the page.
I will say the one thing that appeals to me about the Kindle is the lightweight. Books can be heavy. Not that I carry around fifteen pound books, but even carrying around a one pound book in your purse all day does a number on your shoulders.
I guess I listed a lot of Cons and only one Pro. Maybe the two types of people in the world these days are those who take to Kindle and those who don’t. In the spirit of If You Can’t Beat Em Join Em, however, both of my books are available on Kindle:
For the Love of Letters Kindle
Note to Self Kindle