More on Keeping Paper Books

Judging from the stream of comments and re-tweets, this subject is on many minds. Let me clarify:

I was not proposing an either/or. E-books are very convenient for certain uses! Light, compact, and when you’ve finished a “beach book” you don’t have to leave it in a hotel room drawer. And there are those trees to consider, though many countries are now growing quick-wood-as-crop, and some predict the return of hemp paper. (Durable, that.)

I was suggesting prudence, and a backup system.  For instance, all those who switched entirely to tape and transferred their family movies onto it and then threw out the celluloid may be in for an unpleasant surprise as their loved ones fade from view. New technologies are, well, new. If there’s something you really, really want to keep, should you entrust it entirely to electronic form?

Some of you have thought I was joking. Well, the marshmallow part was a bit of a joke, I confess. If things get really dire you’re more likely to be toasting the cat 🙂  Others have accused me of being alarmist, and of lying. So here are a few sources:

Solar Flares:  New Scientist. Hardly an unprofessional rag.

Internet Brownouts:  MacWorld. In the business, I’d say.Wouldn’t they know?

Energy Shortages, Peak Oil: There’s a huge amount on this. Hard to pick one site.  But here’s a pro & con debate from 2008; the points made haven’t changed a lot since then. (Why Canadian Business? Before you start on the Canadian jokes, take a look at where the oil is in the world. Oil sands included.)

Those of us who remember the days of rationing during WW2 know that when commodities get scarce, it’s the “frills” that go first. We recall the absence of balloons, and of coloured comics… Story-telling   –  narrative – is not a frill: it comes with the human territory. But e-books are, and if energy is the item in short supply, they’ll be cut off. Of course, maybe paper for books will be, too…  It’s happened before, here and there, now and then.

NOTE: Now kids, don’t fight in the Comments. Courteous language, please! You are all readers, and in the Big Text Ship together. Soon I will post a blog on written voicecodes (alphabets, writing systems) and what they do.


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

20 responses to “More on Keeping Paper Books

  1. Not to mention what’s going to happen to our eyesight if we keep glaring at these screens. I’ve just switched from an older phone to an iPhone, and although I only read the news on it, I need glasses straightaway to see it whereas I don’t need them with paper books unless eyes are tired (although in a few years I’ll probably be as blind as a bat).

    The other reason we should hang onto paper books is that the intimacy of reading is invaded by the internet. Reading becomes less special somehow from a screen.

    Someone should set up a bookshop that works somehow between online and print. Maybe moi!

    • Justin

      You realize, Emily Wilkinson, that e-readers do not have back-lit, constantly refreshing screens, right? And that that’s what makes them a viable alternative to paper books? I mean, you must realize this, because only an idiot would comment on this issue without doing the three seconds of research required to figure that out.

      • emilywilkinson

        Wow Justin, I apologise profusely for my lack of knowledge about the e-reader. I apologise for not wanting to take the time to see how these things affect (or don’t affect) our eyesight because I would rather spend my time in a second hand bookshop or library. I apologise for commenting on and supporting the ideas of one of my favourite authors.

        I’d like to thank soespositito below for her critique of your response; “All very good points (except for the “idiot” comment, which just goes to show that our technology is advancing at a speed outrunning our humanity)”. Perhaps you could make your own point before critising other people’s, and show a little respect for your peers (who in this case happens to be an educated woman, not an ‘idiot’)



      • Cait Ruane

        Do you realize, Justin, that’s there’s something called ‘eitiquette’? That is, of course, a rhetorical question since you have not a clue of the practice of etiquette. It makes communication between human beings so much nicer than your aggressive and hostile approach to Ms. Emily Wilkinson above. What right do you have to call this woman an idiot? Or are you–do you– assume everyone except you, of course, is an idiot; however, for a non-idiot you certainly do struggle with the English language. Crawl back into you reader until you’ve read Strunk & White and Emily Post, please!

  2. Hollis Williams

    I have thought about getting an e-reader but I think I’ll just stick with the paperbacks for now. Good to see a writer actually making the arguments for standard books.

  3. robboates

    Just spent two full days downloading, printing, holepunching and filing a series of course readings into four binders. If only because highlighting notes on a screen and writing my own pop-up ads as notes to the text are a dreadfully unfocused way to study.

    So one vote for the paper-based textbook, please. And my compliments to the bookbinders of the world, I’ve taken you for granted.

  4. Awesome set of arguments for “hard” books.
    I don’t really think they’re going anywhere, just experiencing a shift. I think they’ll end up like vinyl records and appeal to bibliophiles and wanna-be bibliophiles. Most likely serious literature, vs. drug-store fiction, much like a lot of pop music not being on vinyl, but all the good stuff also being pressed as well as thrown up on iTunes (half the recent releases I’m into are available on vinyl it seems like).
    I’m okay with this. And, as you’ve so aptly pointed out, when the lights go out, I’ll still have something to read besides cereal boxes.

  5. soesposito

    All very good points (except for the “idiot” comment, which just goes to show that our technology is advancing at a speed outrunning our humanity) I just have one very important thing to add and that is, you can’t take your e-reader to a book signing. I mean, I did think about having Miss Atwood sign my arm and then getting a tattoo there but, the wine wore off in time…joke, but I did have my “real” book signed and it is a treasure, really. No e-book could replace that!

  6. Joseph

    “soesposito” beat me to the punch regarding the ridiculousness of e-book signing [“Miss Atwood, would you mind signing my Kindle™? Here’s a Sharpie™…”]. Certainly a digital signature using some sort of stylus is possible, but something integral is lost in the translation from motion to pixels. This is one instance (amongst many) where tactility is key.

    “robboates” beat me to the punch on my other comment regarding [most] e-textbooks. They are [potentially] immensely efficient for students (in particular for science classes), especially in terms of searching, cross-indexing, and linking via the web to other sources of information. Some may argue that this will produce “lazy” students, but does lugging 50 lbs of books to the photocopier and inhaling toner for an hour really make you a better student? No. I’ve done that in the past, and although my “knowledge” (in the loose sense) may have been harder earned, it is terribly inefficient and I can hardly say that this approach comes out ahead. This may very well be different for humanities students, however I have no direct experience of that myself.

  7. I’m waiting until e-readers include a scratch-and-sniff button that exudes that new-book smell. Oh, and I would also like to request an e-crinkle that mimics the turning of a page when the next arrow is selected. (Like the artificial “click” they had to program into digital cameras, post-design, so people would know the image had been captured.)

  8. Pingback: Alaska» Blog Archive » addii

  9. Stacy

    I am a staunch supporter of the good old fashion book in my hand. A sense of what to become as I imagine with the words splashed across the page. As I made this remark to friends over the holiday, lo and behold, I received one of these E-books. While I find it fascinating, especially when you think of travel and how light and compact it is. Who should take it out of my hands immediately but my 8 year old daughter (Margaret by the way Ms. Atwood!) An avid reader herself, the e-book got her interested in Alice in Wonderland, which she is devouring as I write this. So, while I’m still old fashioned in thought on the subject, I’m encouraged that future readers and technology have a place in this world.

  10. I hope ebooks don’t fully replace paper books in my lifetime. I’d be *almost* devestated if I had to give up reading a new book I was interested in because it was e-book only. I can’t stand the things. hate holding a device in my hands and reading from a screen. I just love the way a printed book looks and feels when I read it. I love my bookshelves full of pretty printed books with nice covers…etc.

  11. Between myself and my sister we have owned more hi-tech toys over the years than I care to count, including GPS units, iPods (classic & touch), etc. I love Kindel reader, it’s by far the coolest toy I got.  Why? Because I was happy to discover just how well-designed and fun it actually is and how easy it is to use . Make sure you the pouch though as it will get scratched pretty quickly.

  12. Also, keep in mind that not everyone can afford new technology, but everyone can afford a library card.
    That’s why I don’t think we’ll ever be without paper books, at least in my lifetime.

  13. I know the readers would probably be better for the environment, for now at least, but no one will ever part me from my books. I can see how the reader would be great for a holiday, as my back gets broken any time I go anywhere hauling books around so I have reading material, but overall, nothing beats the feeling of flipping over a page, that promise I make myself – “I’ll just read till the bottom of this page” which of course leads to another and another. Scrolling just can’t top that.

    PS Margaret – don’t toast the cat, he or she will catch you mice, you can eat them instead!

  14. Didn’t know if you’d seen this e-book commentary at NPR by Eric Weiner, but I liked it and thought I’d share:

  15. JJ

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I plan to vacation in Haida Gwaii this summer – in a cabin with no electricity. I am already trying to figure out how I will keep my ipod going… thank god for paper books! They never run out of batteries.

    Also it is good to know that I am not the only one who is aware of the solar flare threat. Too bad upgrading our transmission infrastructure is just not a very sexy thing for politicians to spend money on.

  16. Al Maki

    I listen to music on an iPod, on CDs, on the radio, in movies and TV, at live concerts, musical scores, music in friends pianos, in supermarkets and elevators and I even make an effort to play it myself. Which is the one true medium?
    There’s new books, used books, library books, magazines, pdfs on the web, epubs and pdfs on my iPod, pdfs on my laptop, epubs on my Sony ereader. Soon there’ll be some on my iPad. Again, which is the one true medium? I don’t even think it’s a false dichotomy, more like a false decochotomy.

  17. Pingback: Hope in a Time of Technology « Bella's Bookshelves

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