Saturday, February 27, 2010

PRINTand the E-BOOK

"Don't own one." "Never will."

"Give me my printed books."

"I want to hold the binding in my hands, slip the pages one over another."

Such is the emotional attachment to books. Books. Not e-books, but real books.

Is our emotional response rational? Maybe. Maybe not.

Let's consider technology. Is technology emotional? I don't know, ask Bill Gates. His new tech replaced a lot of old tech. Take the typewriter, our once valued tool to get words out of our heads faster than with pen and ink. Sure, I know writers who still write with pen and good for them. It works, but I was happy to embrace computer technology those many years ago in a newsroom, where I learned to cut and paste with scissors and a glue pot.

Other examples of old tech giving way to new tech: horses to automobiles, bows to guns, records to CDs and iPods. (Remember those old 78s? Before my time.) But old tech never went away. We still write with pens, cops ride horses and buggy rides are de rigueur in tourist places, bows are still used to hunt deer. I haven't seen an old record in some time, but I bet they're still being played. I know of a few Victorlas that work and of juke boxes spinning 45s.

So will e-books take the place of print books? Will leather bindings crumble on library shelves?

A reader may well say: writing the book is one thing, but reading it is another.

And how about the not-so-old audio technology? I've not gotten used to "hearing" a book.

Cutting to the chase, what do the three transmission methods of words and sentences and punctuation marks have in common? The story. The plot. The characters. The enjoyment of ideas drawn from the brain and delivered to make an enjoyable love story or thriller.

These are a few things e-books must overcome in the next ten years: the sensual pleasure of seeing three dimensional print, smelling ink, touching paper; the trips to the library; the leather or paper bindings on book shelves and in quiet libraries; the memories of a worn Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes falling apart from so much page-turning.

Media technology will continue to evolve. One day, perhaps, readers will be saying, give me plastic and a screen. None of this words-floating-on-thin-air nonsense.

Possible? Ask Bill Gates.