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Horses and Books

Via Andrew Sullivan, from a long article by John Siracusa on the history and future of digital books:

Take all of your arguments against the inevitability of e-books and substitute the word "horse" for "book" and the word "car" for "e-book." ...

"Books will never go away." True! Horses have not gone away either.

"Books have advantages over e-books that will never be overcome." True! Horses can travel over rough terrain that no car can navigate. Paved roads don't go everywhere, nor should they.

"Books provide sensory/sentimental/sensual experiences that e-books can't match." True! Cars just can't match the experience of caring for and riding a horse: the smells, the textures, the sensations, the companionship with another living being.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn't. I'm sure plenty of people swore they would never ride in or operate a "horseless carriage" -- and they never did! And then they died.

Is Amazon's Kindle 2 good enough for me? No. Will Apple release a device this year that would do it for me? Possibly. But do I believe that I'll be reading most of my books and magazines on a portable electronic device within five years? Absolutely.

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Comments

With the car/horse analogy, you are giving up the sensation, companionship, and the ability to traverse mountains..as a primary means of transportation..for a way to get there much faster, shielded from the elements, and with the ability to sing along to an ABBA CD.

I can see where "necessary" reading is likely to be popular for an electronic device. Like the car/horse analogy.. if your purpose is to get from A to B quickly and efficiently, then yes, the car is the way to go.

But for pleasure readers, the tactile experience is a big part of it. Even seeing a book I've read and loved on my bookshelf is part of the joy. Or being able to pick up a book that you've read over and over and know exactly where it opens to your favorite scene. Or to pass on a worn copy of the favorite book from your childhood to one of your own children.

So for me, I'm still somewhat of a hold out... at least until they make something waterproof that can go in the bathtub with me... then I'll think about it :)

All the benefits of paper-based books you list are real, at least for many readers. But think of the benefits of digital books. They take up no physical space beyond the reading device itself. They're less expensive than paper books (so far, at least, with Amazon). They're downloadable essentially instantaneously. They're searchable. They can link to other resources (dictionaries, encylopedias, etc.). They don't require that trees be cut to make them. I could go on.

In other words, the benefits you list (the tactile experience, the ability to pass them along like any other physical object) are real -- but it seems to me that they will be increasingly considered luxuries for a small subset of fans -- just as horseback riding is a luxury pursued by fans these days.

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