We all remember our first mp3 player. The giddy joy of having days, months, years-worth of music at our fingertips. The delight at being able to ditch those overpriced CDs. The acceptable trade-off with sound quality.
As a music fan, that trade-off didn’t bother me much. The pros of convenience and accessibility far outweighed a dip in sound quality that was barely noticeable to anyone except audiophiles. Like I say: music fan, not stereo equipment fan. Yes, vinyl sounds warm. It’s lovely. It’s still not as good as live music. And it’s 100% non-portable.
Likewise with movies and TV. Seeing a film in the cinema is one thing. Watching a DVD is… well, who misses navigating through piracy warnings and over-elaborate DVD menus, anyways? Why not fire up iTunes or Netflix or Hulu and have a leisurely browse to see what takes your fancy at any particular fickle moment.
But books. Hmm. The original physical entertainment medium. The smell of the pages, the crack of the spine, the feel of the paper under your fingers. And perhaps more importantly than anything, the look of all those spines stuffed to bursting on the bookshelf.
It was obvious that this couldn’t last. That books would go the way of music and movies. It’s strange, in fact, that mp3s and DVDRips took off before e-books. Shouldn’t written text be the *easiest* thing to reproduce?
Though I’d had no problem with the death (ok, mortal wounding) of physical recorded music (what a weird idea that is anyways), I expected to have more of a problem switching from paper books to phantom illusory binary code in the ether e-books.
Or as I’ll refer to them from hereon, “books”. It’s not like hardback books and paperbacks had to be permanently welded to their individuating designations now, is it?
Because what isn’t to love about a book that you can read on a tablet, then pick up on your phone, when you’re stuck at the town hall? Isn’t it great that while reading Vlad Nabokov or dear Billy Self, you can highlight that wonderfully erudite and oh-so-fucking-abstruse word and look up what it means? That might be my favourite thing about (e)books – it’s so much less jarring that having to mark your page, pick up a dictionary, leaf through to the right word, get distracted by a rude word, put the dictionary down, pick up your book, drop your bookmark, swear, find the last page you definitely remember having read… you get the point.
Highlighting text, multiple bookmarks, searching for phrases or character names: all these things are now ridiculously easy and all-but-idiot-proof. Highlighting in particular – when I do that to physical books, I’m aware of how irreversible the process is, how I’m intruding on the reading experience for anyone else that picks it up later.
Yes, there are still questions to be ironed out. The expense of an e-reader in the first place. DRM, and the inability to lend of store-bought books. The business models of Amazon and Apple, and the ramifications for authors. But books are books, whether they’re burnt onto bark or broken down into bits and bytes.