Here is an interesting article on technology and reading — the cover story in the Columbia Journalism Review, by Ezra Klein — The Future of Reading. Speaking specifically about the portable e-reader Kindle, he states:
It’s not just that the technology is cool, however. The Kindle is credible. As a product of Amazon, it’s intertwined with the world’s largest online bookstore, legitimized by the one company that can lay some claim to having already changed the way we use, or at least acquire, books. The real question, though, is what took so long? Though Amazon has transformed the way we purchase content, its business model has always contained a crucial inefficiency: Amazon gives you unlimited, free, instant access to text about books, so long as you read it on your computer screen. Then, when you’re ready, they’ll also sell you some text, only it won’t be unlimited or instant. Instead, it will be printed on mashed-up tree, put in a box, and sent across the country to you. What’s in that box is simply more text, no different from what you read on your computer, save for the wasteful, inefficient, and costly method of production. For all that we rebel against the idea, examined rationally, the death of the book would be no surprise.
. . .
The Kindle is far less the start of a revolution than the codification of one. It’s a declaration of war long after most of the contested lands have been conquered.
. . .
content is king. It will seek out the vehicle best suited to its absorption or enjoyment. Sometimes, it will occupy multiple mediums at the same time, in order to appeal to the largest audience (think of how books live happily alongside audio books, and then are turned into movies). But the endless discussion as to whether books are dead tends to conflate “books” with “text,” and thereby obscures far more than it illuminates. Books will not die, after all, unless we want them dead. They have survived the advent of radio, television, the Internet, and Nintendo. Rather, they will be challenged once again, and books’ content will find new ways to express itself more effectively.
. . .
The point was driven home to me while reading William Powers’s brilliant essay “Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Why Paper Is Eternal,” which considers the evolution of paper and the way it has subtly shaped not only the way we read, but what we read. “The persistence of paper flies in the face of a widely held popular assumption about technology,” Powers writes, “propagated over the years by breathless futurists and science-fiction writers.” True enough. But it was at about that moment that I realized I was reading “Why Paper Is Eternal” paperlessly, on my computer. I had downloaded it for free, which could be done because there were no shipping or production costs associated with the electronic file, and I decided to read it in my PDF viewer (the wonderful freeware Skim, for those who are interested) so I’d be better able to jot down thoughts and pull quotes. Paper may be eternal, but for some purposes, it’s simply inferior.
. . .
At the end of the day, the true advances won’t come in the Kindle, but in the content. Just as the capabilities of the device will shape what authors decide to do with it, so too will the decisions of authors shape the evolution of the device.
Fascinating! Too many arguments about technology fall into the trap of either technological determinism or an anti-technology rant. Klein has hit it right on with his analysis of the interaction. Just as papyrus (the scroll) replacing clay tablets and the book replacing the scroll changed how we read, the electronic form will also change how we read.
But will it change how we shop and how we decorate? The chaotic bookstore is still the place we can stumble into a new find. The large, well stocked library is still the outward sign of a certain status. Books have a visual character beyond their content. I would how that feature of our lives will change and adapt?