The Future of Reading?

A couple of weeks ago when I was flying back from San Francisco, I saw a man reading from a Kindle. You know, that fancy new reading device sold exclusively by Amazon (in the US). I was rather intrigued about the possibilities of this device. What avid reader wouldn’t be excited about being able to download any book desired at any time of the day or night? Think about it – no more waiting for the bookstore or library to open, or your package to arrive from some online retailer. Click a few keys and presto! One, or many, books.

Well, not quite. Since the Kindle isn’t available in Canada, I can’t check it out for myself so instead I read Nicolas Barker’s article in The New Yorker. Turns out there are lots of books available for the Kindle, but many notable titles, including those by well-known contemporary authors like Lorrie Moore, Tim O’Brien and Vladimir Nabakov are not available. Then there is the limitation that the Kindle will only handle files downloaded from the Amazon website (newer generations of the Kindle will handle PDF files). This means that you can’t read e-books designed by other companies or for other devices, such as one by Sony. You also can’t transfer Kindle e-books to another Kindle or read them on your computer. The Kindle is the end of giving away or trading books.

On top of all this, the Kindle has a grey screen and displays text in a slightly darker shade of grey – doesn’t sound particularly good for the peepers. It also has trouble displaying pictures or graphics with any real clarity. The old-fashioned paper book still trumps in this regard.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology. I can’t imagine doing my job without e-mail and the Internet, and I love my iPhone, but I still love my paper books. The book just works – it doesn’t crash, the batteries don’t die, it doesn’t have “synch” problems or gives you error messages. You can highlight passages, fold over the corner and leave it open over the arm of a chair when you need a drink. You can keep treasured volumes on your shelf for years and not have to worry that the device on which to read them will become obsolete (unlike the 3.5″ floppy disks I found at the back of the closet the other day). I get pleasure out of holding a book that was designed with care, including a cover design carefully chosen to reflect the content. I especially like books printed by the Porcupine’s Quill because the paper is gorgeous and the fonts are beautiful.

So, until technology can surpass the design of the book – not just try to match it – I’ll continue to lick my index finger and turn pages instead of scrolling.

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