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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The death throes of print

E-readers are becoming more common lately.
With all the buzz around e-readers like the Nook and Kindle and devices like the iPad with e-reader capabilities, not to mention the proliferation of information available on the Internet, it seems it's only a matter of time before the printed tome sees its last days. I await this day with a feeling of anxiousness and dread.

I've never actually used an e-reader and I don't read as much as I used to, but I'm one of those people that's going to take forever to convert to electronic books, and maybe I never will. One of the things I love about printed books is the feeling of accomplishment I get when the stack of pages to the left of my current page starts to grow then eventually surpass the size of the stack of pages to the right. I can't see any way possible that a Nook can give me that same feeling.

There's also the storage issue, which can be a pro or a con either way. I love being able to display the books I've read (or plan on reading) in my home, but you can't really do that with e-books. On the flip side, it's a lot easier to relocate a Kindle than box after box of books should I need to move. And packing is a snap.

My local library now loans e-books too. I was looking for what I thought was an audiobook on the shelf and ended up having to ask the librarian about it. She informed me that it was an electronic book for e-readers and I was more or less gobsmacked. She said they work the same way as borrowing a traditional book. You get limited access to it before the next person checks it out. Weird.
The recently opened branch of my local library has sparsely
populated shelves and offers electronic loans.
I simply haven't been sold on the e-reader phenomenon yet, but at this point I can recognize some benefits. The library example makes sense to me. If I had an e-reader, I'd be most likely to start using it here due to the fleeting nature of how quickly the library book enters and exits my life.

Oh, you know what I hate though? When I'm happily reading during my lunch break, and everyone who enters the room interrupts me to ask, "What are you reading?" Would that be even worse when the book has no cover? It would be hella easier to lie, I guess. "Oh, er- I'm reading War and Peace. For the third time." (Actually it's the collected Penthouse forum letters from 1980-2000.)

But what brought this to mind today was this article I saw on the New York Times website about the Encyclopaedia Britannica ending its run of printed volumes after 244 years. I'm also one of those guys (relics, I guess) who places more faith in the written word than the electronic one, though it's hard to argue with the power to instantly update an electronic encyclopedia. I guess if you're paying an online subscription fee of $70 annually to access the Britannica material, that's still reliable information at a reasonable cost for a home with a student. My bias against online information is targeted mainly toward the stuff that's freely available from any number of self-titled "experts."
The 22-volume set of the World Book Encyclopedia from 1976
was my best friend in research throughout childhood.

When I was a kid we had the World Book Encyclopedia in our home (still in print, thank you). It was a series that was probably printed in 1976, and each year we got a Yearbook from the publisher that included updates on many of the older topics and even some new ones. The Yearbook came with a couple pages of lick-and-stick citation references to place on the appropriate pages of the volume set. I used to love combing through the different books and placing those update tabs each year. I remember that the entry for computers had nearly a quarter of the page plastered with those little update stickers. The photo in the original entry featured a laboratory computer about the size of two refrigerators.

Electronic information may be easier and cheaper to create, maintain, update and access, but that doesn't mean I have to accept the change quietly. This electronic age is beginning to sound the death knell for printed media in every form. Some magazines and newspapers have gone to electronic-only versions, including one of my childhood favorites, Cracked magazine (which I'm happy to say has matured along with me to a more adult-themed humor). In addition, the United States Postal Service has felt the sting dealt by the ubiquity of electronic communication, which has led to mail sorting facility and post offfice closings all over the country.

This is a new world, folks. I feel like we're teetering on the edge of somewhere I'm not sure I want to go. Add another 30 years and throw in a worldwide nuclear war... Looks like that book The Postman might be more a prediction of the future than pure science fiction. Haven't read it? Oh, you should. The movie's OK too, but I'd recommend the book over the film any day. Oh, and it's available for the Kindle too, at a fraction of the hardback cost. Sigh.