E-readers: the most dangerous read
By Erin O’Neil, Sports Editor
On Nov. 6, 2007, Newsweek magazine celebrated the release of Amazon’s new Kindle with a cover page emblazoned with the boldly-scripted statement “Books Aren’t Dead.” What most Americans didn’t realize at the time was that Newsweek was lying to them.
By then, I had already braced myself for an onslaught of e-reader commercialism, but when I first saw the Barnes & Noble nook, my heart sank. I walked into the store, only to be greeted at the door by a large and obnoxious kiosk. So I turned around and walked right back out. I had never expected my favorite literary vendor to betray my trust so quickly, and I felt somehow violated.
To be fair, Newsweek wasn’t lying outright—it was more of an artful fudge. But no amount of waffling on behalf of advertisers with well-lined pockets can dispel the fact that books all over the world are sucking in their last few breaths of fresh air. The paperback is dying, all in the interest of readers looking to save a couple of minutes.
So, to save those minutes, I’m going to cut right to the point. To all the optimists out there: don’t deny that the book is on its way out. I’ve come to realize there’s really no point in being angry. I’ve found that skulking around the nook kiosk at Barnes & Noble and stealing pamphlets had little cathartic value. I left a supportive comment on a YouTube video bashing the iPad, but, in the end, I only felt more depressed.
Although it’s still around now, the book is just a few faltering steps behind its cousin, the compact disc. And like the compact disc, its successor, the e-reader, follows the revolutionary steps of the small and convenient iPod: easy to buy, easy to use and easy to skip through. These normally-admired qualities sour in light of the one minute detail that books are supposed to be read and scrutinized and pondered.
As alarming as the e-reader is, I find this electronic coup far from surprising. In fact, it’s been in the making for hundreds of years. Since its creation, the written word has struggled to survive in a world determined to truncate its very existence.
Who would dare call an unruly crowd by its original name, “mobile volgus” or remember the abbreviating apostrophe in ’cello? No one, and only for the simple reason that it’s easier not to.
The shortening and omitting of words has wrought even more dramatic changes to the world of literature. In James Fenimore Cooper’s day, a book was supposed to spin a visual for its readers down to the last leaf. It was the style, until people decided that reading took up too much time.
As we spiral deeper and deeper into an overwhelming state of attention deficiency, everything we do, invent and use is intended to save us time, no matter the cost. Our society’s manufactured ideology that time spent is time wasted inherently opposes the book and all it has to offer. Reading isn’t just another tedious chore to be endured as quickly as possible. Books provide us with a multitude of alternative worlds—parallel universes in which we can vacation for however long we choose.
That is precisely why we, as the human race, need to resist the devious HAL’s and other dangerous technologies we come across. As helpful as it is, technology can only save us a certain amount of time without severely siphoning information that feeds the mind, a stronghold of imaginative potential that grows increasingly vulnerable with every new e-reader released Some things are worth the time they consume, and reading is one of them.
So, even as the world accelerates around me, I will continue to give books as birthday gifts and I will continue to carry a library card in my wallet. I suggest you do the same. I suggest you carry around the paperback version, even though the corners curl sometimes. I suggest you read Goldstein’s book inside of “1984,” even though it’s easier just to skip the chapter. And I suggest you join me in giving the nook salesman dirty looks while entering the Barnes & Noble because the freedom to slow down and enjoy a world different from ours, even for just five minutes, is a privilege worth preserving.
Erin O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on p.8 of the June 7, 2010 issue of The Spoke.