Monday, July 12, 2010

eBook or not eBook

I've considered, from time to time, whether or not to go ahead and buy a Kindle or a Nook. There are some obvious plusses: books are cheaper if you buy them online, you don't have to carry a bunch of books around with you when you travel, and if you want to read something Right Now, you can have it in seconds. You might be saving a tree or two. And recently the prices have been falling, so that's an attraction.

But there's another voice in my head saying, basically, let's wait. I hadn't worked out the reasons behind that counsel, but the other day I found that D'Arcy Norman had been there and done that. Why do without an eReader? Let us count the ways:

They’re awkward. The digital tools that would make digital books worth the hassle, most notably copy and paste, are disabled via DRM.

And ebooks don’t offer analogs for the best parts of the experience of owning and reading dead-trees books. I can’t write in an ebook. I can’t dog-ear corners. I can’t flip back and forth. I can’t compare passages in different sections (or books) easily. I can’t slip pieces of paper in between pages. I can’t hand an ebook to my wife to read, or to a colleague. I can’t loan my copy to someone. I can’t give it away when I’m done. I can’t leave it in an airport for someone to find and read on their own trip.

Ebooks don’t feel right. They don’t smell right. They’re still not ready for prime time. I’m not sure they will be.

He's onto something there. The whole experience of having a book in my hand is a personal, textural, textual experience. I do all the stuff D'Arcy is talking about: marginal notes, crossreferences, dog-ears, flipping back and forth, passing them along. (I've got four books passed along to me on my desk right now, a little inventory of pleasures waiting to be tasted.)

I use the Kindle app on my iPhone and like that, to a degree. But the only time I really use it is as a fallback, when I'm stuck somewhere with nothing to read. I'm like having the option. I don't mind visiting. But I don't want to live there.

Followup, July 20: Here's a post by Leslie Gates doing an analysis of the pros and cons of each.

1 comment:

C. Watson said...

"Technology is what we call something that doesn't quite work right yet. Once we figure it out, we give it a proper name, like chair or book." -loosely quoted from somebody.