Outside the box

To e-read or not to e-read? That is the question

With the rise of e-books I have reached a crossroads in life. Do we as a society throw away centuries of reading real ink on real paper for the newfangled devices known as e-readers? What a quandary and what exciting times we live in to witness such new technological wonders. Now I know how my sainted mother felt when permanent press fabric was introduced and she no longer had to dread spending hours tethered to her medieval era ironing board. (Not that she ever ironed, she just always dreaded it.)

It is still hard for me to let go of books as a tangible thing. They seem so real compared to a collection of bits and bytes. Will future totalitarian societies have to forgo book burning and instead replace these ceremonies with book deleting?

On the one hand, I like real books. They’re all I’ve known and they have been faithful companions throughout my life. On the other hand, maybe e-books are better for the environment since they use less paper and ink. But are they really? They are made up of chemicals and toxic materials that will eventually be tossed in a landfill as a new generation of e-readers with built-in cappuccino makers is released. My  brother is a professional forester (as opposed, I guess, to an amateur one) and he assures me that wood is a renewable resource so the use of  paper isn’t a major issue.

Even with all this new technology how do you decide which one to get? With names like Kindle, I-pad, Libre, Literati, Velocity Micro, Touch and, my gosh, Nook, they sound more like sexual aids than something I would carry on a plane. They tout their ability to carry 3,500 books but even as an avid reader I doubt I have read that many in my lifetime.

My wife and I are planning to take a year off and travel around the world. I figured an e-reader would definitely come in handy for such a journey. Then I found out that I wouldn’t be able to download books in other countries as freely as I do here. In fact the Nook will only allow US downloads.

I contacted the good folks at the Amazon.com customer service department to see if I would be able to download books overseas. Their answer was definitely maybe. So a gadget that is designed for traveling would not be useful for…traveling.

The other day I tried out a Kindle for the first time. It seemed nice enough but what’s with that black and white flash it emits when you turn the page? I felt like I was watching the onstage pyroblasts at a Metallica concert. That type of light show doesn’t seem too relaxing for bedtime reading.

I asked my friend Charlie what he thought of the e-book phenomena. Although a few years older than me, Charlie is an early adopter of new technology. He was using the Internet when it was still a gleam in Al Gore’s eye and was paying his credit card bills by touch tone phone while I still had a rotary dial.

Charlie was an early purchaser of the Kindle and loved it. But then a funny thing happened. His phone, in his case an I-phone, natch, can also download books. He has now ditched his Kindle and reads books on his phone. I’m starting to think that e-readers will go the way of other here today gone tomorrow technology, the high-tech equivalent of eight track tapes and Michael Dukakis inauguration tickets.

If anyone can offer me advice on this issue I’d appreciate it.

UPDATE: July 21, 2011

Well I bought the Kindle about a month ago and I have to say it’s not rocking my world. I DO judge a book by its cover and in a Kindle they are coverless. You can’t flip through Kindle books easily and the total experience comes nowhere near to reading an actual book. Plus I am used to borrowing books for free at the library (they still do exist) or browsing used bookstores for hidden gems. The Kindle may come in handy on my year-long trip but I have a feeling that upon my return I’ll be selling it on Ebay.


About Michael

This blog has a mix of some of my main interests in life: travel, politics, food and generally being a curmudgeon. Enjoy.


10 thoughts on “To e-read or not to e-read? That is the question

  1. Wear sunscreen. That’s my advice. I’m a crazy reader. I have stacks of books to read at home (mostly free from http://www.paperbackswap.com or from friends) and I have a Kindle for travel. If I were taking a year off to go around the world (sigh…) I would take the Kindle and a few books at least until I could buy others if necessary. Hedge your bet. I’m happy knowing I can have either in my life.

    Posted by lifeintheboomerlane | April 21, 2011, 1:38 pm
    • See that’s the other difficulty I have with Kindle. I rarely buy new books. Mostly I get them out of the library or from used bookstores. I’ll try that paperback swap web site. Thanks for the tip about the sunscreen.

      Posted by Thomas | April 21, 2011, 1:51 pm
  2. I appreciate your musings on e-readers. I am the ultimate late-adopter who never even had an mp3 player til last year, but e-readers call to me like no other gadget. That said, I still haven’t purchased one. I received an iPad awhile back as a gift and I know I can use it as an e-reader, but I haven’t downloaded any books yet, partly because of the difference in the display between the iPad and the Kindle/Nook. The latter have screens that look just like newsprint, even in sunlight, and don’t strain your eyes, while the iPad is just like your computer screen. I spend enough time ogling the computer screen as a writer, I don’t need to do it when I read, as well.

    Very interesting about foreign downloading!But if the reader holds as many books as you say, can’t you just load it up before you leave? I don’t think you can read that many books in a year, especially if you’re also seeing the world.

    Finally, I just have to say, there’s nothing like a book in your hand! One of my worst fears is bringing an e-reader to the DMV or somewhere, in lieu of a book, and having it get splashed with coffee or something! Books are pretty low-maintenance items, need no batteries, and they have no technological glitches.

    Posted by Alaina Mabaso | April 21, 2011, 2:34 pm
    • That’s my concern about the Ipad, eyestrain. The problem with traveling is we don’t know all the destinations yet and would want to download travel guides as we go. I agree though, it is hard to improve upon an actual book. Thanks for checking in.

      Posted by Thomas | April 21, 2011, 2:45 pm
  3. Check public libraries re downloads. They may have some thoughts.

    Posted by Moe | April 21, 2011, 2:39 pm
  4. As a curmudgeon-in-training, I deplore the use of such non-words as e-book., or e-anything for that matter. My bias runs deep, formed at a young and most impressionable age. Books, containing as they do the sum of all human experience, hold a revered place in life. The same might be said for art and music but these rely to a greater degree on perception, than do books. Books speak on behalf of their author but retain their own character. The small paperback I acquired as a boy and which has been with me these 56 years would loose all its identity, the look, the feel, yes, the fragrance, the attachment to a moment of my own personal history, if reduced to mere words on an LCD screen. My modest shelves contain the volumes I hope never to be without, books with lasting meaning, old friends I return to often, as well as a good many who sit waiting, books with which I hope soon to become acquainted in retirement. Electronic publishing has its place, blogs being a ready and worthy example, but these are not to be confused with books, in style, intent or format. As to travel, I disqualify myself, since I seldom find myself more than an hour from home and always return by the end of each day. Regarding that dilemma, I leave it to you. Thank you.

    Posted by thegradualday | April 22, 2011, 10:23 am
    • Thanks for checking in fellow curmudgeon. You are so right. With the pace of change in technology today’s e-book is tomorrow’s trash, never to be seen again. Books have worked for centuries so hopefully they can hang in for the far less time remaining to me.

      Posted by Thomas | April 23, 2011, 12:27 am
  5. I enjoyed reading your blog…on my iPhone.

    Posted by Marcus | April 22, 2011, 3:15 pm

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