Sunday, August 1, 2010

Soapbox Speeches: E-books Suck

"This is probably a rant. I don't think of it that way, but it probably is. Thus I've decided that whenever I want to get on my high horse and start haranguing I'll mark the post as a 'Soapbox Speech'. Thus negating the need to start the post warning you that I'm about to rant my ass off. Consider yourself warned." -Jesse

        Take a moment to ponder over the idea of a book. Is it just a bundle of paper and ink? Or is it something more? Take another moment to think about the idea of an idea. While a book conjures thoughts of physical examples, an idea is more abstract. And yet I would argue that the image of a book works for both. Printed word is one of the most efficient means of not only capturing and propagating an idea, but of ascribing importance to an idea. It always has been yet the invention of movable type blew the doors wide open and allowed ideas to migrate at an unprecedented rate. People were able to share ideas like never before and, as is their nature, ideas beget more ideas
        The obvious argument is that e-books and data represent the next stage in evolution of the written word. I would, however, vehemently disagree with such an argument. The crucial difference is that a book exists. You can own it, touch it, hold it, write in it, claim it, trade it, sell it. These things are not merely facets of a biblophile's fetish, but actual and useful features. The printed word represents a physical manifestation of ethereal concepts. You can reach out and touch a story. You can feel the cover of an idea. Why do you think the concept of book burning is seen as a sickeningly barbaric action? Because it isn't just paper that is burning; it is ideas.
        The problem with e-books is that they contain ideas, but are not a manifestation of an idea. Data is to a computer what a thought is to a brain. It is a bundle of switches that happen to be working in such a was as to create a specific instance. It's lack of a physical impact largely negates a majority of its meaning and completely negates any sense of true ownership. You can use someone else's brain, but you can't own it. The same is true of data. Like an mp3 that people transfer to one another, it isn't so much something that you own as it is something you have access to.
        Sure a hand-held device that contains 100s of books is convenient. A whole vacation of reading without having to lug around a case of books. But when the device breaks what do you have? What did you ever have? Let's say your device isn't broken, but you have lost interest in a particular title. So what do you do? Well you just delete it. You can simply burn it from your hard drive because it doesn't mean anything at all. But a physical book always has meaning and that is the essence of what makes it important. It's constant meaning represents the concept that ideas have weight, that ideas have impact. That you can take an idea and own it, touch it, hold it, write in it, trade it, and even sell it.
        Our entire culture is built around weighty ideas: an ever increasing construction of knowledge and ideas. When we take away an idea's weight there are consequences. When we forget the elements of our foundation, things like “Knowledge is important” and “Every person matters”, we are forgetting part of our humanity.
        Books aren't the daily news which is meant to be absorbed and discarded, and yet they are being put in the same realm and we are being told that it is the future. The idea of books being lowered into a realm of consumable entertainments makes me truly sad, because I cannot help but see it as an example of our ideas starting losing their weight and importance. I'm not saying e-books don't have a place of their own in the world of literature. I'm just saying that books are different than e-books and that if we don't see the difference then we just may forget why books are so important. If we can forget something like that...well I don't really want to think about what that says about us.
     So let's just try to remember not to burn books. Okay?

1 comment:

  1. i think your idea that the physical aspect of books being the most important part is really (for lack of a better word at the moment) deep. i love the internet and i like audio books but i would always rather have the physical copy. that sense of ownership is really important to me.