I got a Kindle for my birthday last year. I wasn’t sure that I wanted it, but there it was – sleek and grey in a soft purple cover that closed over it like…well, a book cover. It was wireless enabled and synced with my Amazon account, so when I turned it on it greeted me by name and suggested books for me to read. A bit overly familiar, I thought.
I’m a reluctant adopter of new technology, the sort of person who stubbornly refuses to upgrade anything and still doesn’t own a smart phone. An e-reader was just another thing I didn’t need. I’d been reading books for 25 years and they worked just fine, thank you very much. I didn’t need to plug them in or worry about dropping them. But the Kindle came with an Amazon gift card, so I decided to give it a try.
My Kindle and I went through a period of adjustment. I didn’t hold it right and kept turning the page accidentally. I struggled to download books as the wireless signal in my flat cut in and out. But before I knew it, reading on the Kindle seemed….normal. I almost forgot that I had ever read any other way. When I tried to read a regular book again, I got annoyed with it for being heavy and awkward. I needed to prop it open with my fingers until they cramped. It didn’t automatically remember what page I’d last read so I needed to use an old receipt as a bookmark. Reading it felt like an awful lot like work.
E-books are abstract things. You can’t make notes in the margins, wear out the spines through multiple readings or lend them to friends (unless you’re willing to download some dodgy software). But what they lack in substance they make up in convenience. You can download them instantly, hold your entire library in your hands and read embarrassing romance novels on public transport without anyone knowing. Over time this will overshadow all of the lovely fuzzy feelings we get when we think about physical books. It’s nice to be able to display the complete works of Shakespeare on your living room shelf, but it’s better to be able to carry the whole thing around with you in your handbag.
E-books aren’t perfect – they’re more expensive than they should be, and most libraries still have a relatively small selection that you can borrow. But we have to remember that the technology is still relatively new – they’ve only been around for a few decades, while physical books have been around for a few millennia. We will think of easier and cheaper ways to create, distribute and share them. And as e-books improve, books will start to go the way of cassettes, CDs, VHS tapes, floppy discs and all of the other things we thought were wonderful until something more convenient came along. In fact, it’s already started. E-book sales increased by 188% in the first half of 2012 compared to the same time last year, while physical book sales fell by 0.4%.
I consider myself a book lover, but I have no attachment to the physical objects themselves. I love the stories, and we will always have those.