eBooks make me cry, especially when they're in my hands.
Yes. I have a Kindle, and I use it regularly. It's lighter than a 500-page hardcover, and if I need a book quickly, well, it's faster than overnight shipping.
There are lots of reasons people dislike eBooks. There is something about holding a bound book, something about the beauty of it on a shelf, something about what our bookshelves tell visitors about us when they enter our homes. (Entering my apartment, you can see bookshelves in my bedroom. On more than one occasion, guests have asked if they can go into my bedroom and check out my books.) I am one of those people who loves books, and will always cherish them (much the same way I cherish the 1,000 vinyl LPs in my office).
My tears are for history, and eBooks — and more broadly other digital communications — don't bode well for it.
I have a cousin who is an archivist at Brandeis University, where she has in her care (and at her access) a copy of Shakespeare's first folio (which someday I hope to visit). So, ponder this: If Will had his manuscripts on a floppy disc, what would their state be now? Would the data be recoverable? Would we even know what to do with a 400-year-old computer file? I doubt it. Forget Shakespeare, though, how about the Iliad and the Odyssey? Or going back further, the great holy texts or sliding back another notch, cave paintings. We've gone from stone to parchment to paper to bits and bytes, each step a little less durable.
eBooks reflect a certain cultural arrogance. It's the notion that our society is never-ending. If history shows us anything, societies die, are lost, and only rediscovered by digging deep into the ground. But we, like our predecessors, believe we'll last forever.
Even more recent treasures fall victim, say an obscure French book from the 1920s that's been found in a barn — an only copy, long forgotten and out of print. If you can read, in this case French, it's as easy to handle as a paperback picked up in the airport.
So, what's going to happen to the greatest thoughts of our time? The most momentous writings? The unpublished journals and collections of letters that give us insight into the past. We live in a disposable society, and now even our thoughts are disposable.
What will future civilizations learn about us? Most certainly, they won't be reading this blog (unless you print it out and store it very safely). Are we deleting ourselves from history?
Anyone who's followed this blog through its extremely rare postings knows I don't fight technology. Every advance is a tradeoff, something gained and something lost. I just try to make sense of the changes. The only consistent truth is that there's no rolling them back.
I do love my Kindle on the subway, and it's great to have the complete works of Poe, which were free. But as the train runs beneath the city, I do shed a small tear as it rides into obscurity.