Whatever happened to the good old days? You know, when kids were pestering you for the newest electronic device, and you didn’t know whether to let them have it or tell them to go read a book. When the young led technological advances with their constant need for new gadgets and gizmos, and the old folk got to sit back on their rockers and complain about how much bread costs these days and how you used to be able to go to the movies for a quarter.
I’m the old man in my house, but it turns out that I’m the one who wants my books and music and movies in downloadable formats while my whippersnapper of a daughter wants her entertainment in the form of discrete lumps of molecules, often redundant after their initial use. She’s even written a top ten list of reasons she prefers print books (hereafter, and for which use I am indebted to TeleRead, referred to as pbooks) over ebooks. So to answer the youngster, here is a list of my own:
Top Ten Reasons Ebooks are Better than Pbooks
10. Weight. The kid clearly hasn’t ever had to load eighty-three boxes of pbooks into and out of a moving van. I’ve moved around enough in my time to be really glad that the next time I won’t have added a few more years of slowly rotting paper to my load. And speaking of that slow rot…
9. Smell. That pleasant smell of old pbooks? It’s the smell of decay. Glues and resins being broken down by acids in the paper. Mold and other micro-organisms eating away at your prized Shakespeares and Dostoevskys. The lack of smell in my new Kindle? That’s bits and bytes not rotting.
8. Convenience. Generally I carry a few dozen ebooks in my Kindle, and with the proliferation of WiFi these days, I can get more anytime and anywhere. I can shop in my underwear. Try that at your local friendly pbookstore and find out just how quickly they can call 911.
7. Savings. Maybe this doesn’t matter so much to the kid, but after all I’m the one who buys her books in the first place. Ebooks cost publishers less to produce, and most of them are making nice with some reasonable discounts. Classics, of course, thanks to such good people as those at Project Gutenberg, are free.
6. Environmental responsibility. That’s right — I’m going there. An article about a year ago in Slate suggested that my Kindle had paid its “environmental debt” after about twenty-three books. In other words, the energy and resources and impact on the planet required to make a Kindle are equivalent to those required to make, distribute, store and retail twenty-three pbooks. I’ve been reading ebooks for over three years now. The environment ought to be having a party.
5. Conversation. I’m going there as well. Look, I know the deal; it’s fun to go over to other people’s houses and check out their pbookcases. I know that if I’m in someone else’s place, checking out their pbook collection is one of the first things I do (after disabling the alarm system and feeding an anaesthetic-laced steak to the dobermann). And, yes, every literate boy dreams of commenting on that cute girl’s dog-eared copy of Wuthering Heights on the subway, then later telling the anecdote at the wedding. Well, too bad. Find another reason to talk to her. Better yet, meet her online at some booky website or other. And when you go over to people’s houses, pick up their Kindles and have a look. Or just talk to them and stop snooping.
4. Floods. This is my counter to the dropped book in the bathtub argument. If I have a flood and all my pbooks are ruined all my pbooks are ruined. If I have a flood and my Kindle is ruined, I buy another one for a hundred bucks and download all my ebooks. Same for lightning, fire, earthquakes and zombie apocalypsi.
3. Used pbookstores. Remember that thing about the smell of old pbooks? Well, what if you got a few thousand of them together in small venues staffed by retired teachers and mystery buffs, never dusted, brought in a few cats, and then had people tromp around and spread germs on top of the dust and decaying paper? Then, what if you engaged in a decades-long cultural experiment to brainwash people into thinking that these mold-incubating asthmatic nightmares were havens of nostalgia? Either that or you could just download Jane Eyre to a nice hypoallergenic Kindle. Just sayin’.
2. Accessibility. As my old-man eyes get older, all I will have to do is dial up the print size on my Kindle. Also Kindles read to blind people. And non-blind people. Nuff said. And, yes, I know I just said dial. I know you whippersnappers don’t know what that means. Get off my lawn.
1. It’s a toy and a book. I rest my case.