November 22, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: nook, Kindle and e-readers -- The Triumph of E-Chauvanism

From Nathan Bransford's 11/20/09 column:

"And this is why I believe e-books are going to win in the end, and probably sooner than we think. It's simply vastly more efficient to download any book you could possibly want instantaneously and read a book on a screen (even better if it's a screen you already have, hello smartphone) than to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country in a plane or a truck or both, and make someone walk or drive to a physical store (who may or may not have the book they want) every time they want to read a book.

"I think we'll look back on the print era and marvel about all those people who were responsible for delivering all these individual printed objects, kind of like how there used to be a fleet of milk men in every city rather than one guy driving a truck to a couple of supermarkets.

"To be sure, no technology disappears completely - people still ride horses, go to plays, type on typewriters, listen to record players, and send handwritten letters. And printed books aren't going to disappear either. All of these technologies have advantages and an associated nostalgia that people will always want to preserve and experience. There will still be printed books and physical bookstores, even if there are far fewer of them.

"But things tend to move in one direction: toward greater efficiency and productivity. There's always a delay as people adapt to the new technology, but prices come down, the technology gets better, and the efficiency spreads.

"Printed books have their advantages, but they don't win where it counts. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human nature abhors a bottleneck."

Nathan Bransford simply states the general feel of what I've been hearing throughout the writing community as well as the "book" community. As an employee of Barnes and Noble (my extra job), I've been indoctrinated regarding the new nook and I confess the machine is tempting and in all likelihood I'll get one someday if only to be able to keep reading the books I want to read.

Even so, my argument is, was and always will be that ebooks are for the wealthy and the wealthy ONLY. And yes, I am included in that label. In the Seven Worlds Index (, the nook, kindle and other e-readers, will be available to most in the First and Second Worlds, many in the Third and Seventh Worlds, some in the Fourth and Fifth Worlds and few in the Sixth World.

NOT ONE of the poor will be able to afford a book. Not ONLY will they not be able to afford it, even if gifted with one, they will not be able to maintain it. Books need no power. EVERY ereader does. It needs technology to exist, it needs technology to support it, it needs technology to use it.

It is insufferably self-centered of the wealthy to assume that they and they alone read and think. Because that's what it comes down to. The assumption that no one who cannot afford to have an ipod, iphone, nook, kindle or any OTHER ereading device isn't "really" worth the effort to educate is the hidden message in this movement to yank reading from the hands of the poor and concentrate it in the hands of the wealthy -- who will eventually be the only ones able to access new information. The gap has been growing for years and excpet for libraries, shows no sign whatsoever of stopping. (And locally, library funding is regularly curtailed in favor of road funding...)

Last of all, when the comet strikes, when the plague happens, when disaster overcomes the human race and civilization collapses in chaos, we will not be ABLE to access the books online, the CDs, the efiles and ecommerce. Information will disappear or become inaccessible. If we believe that Humanity is eternal and that we will ALWAYS beat the odds, dodge the bullet or survive the plague, then we are not considering history nor are we considering the fallibility and frailty of Humanity.

WHEN it collapses, the more we have stored electronically, the more we will lose. The more we squirrel away in the internet, the more we will have to rediscover when it is forever lost...


Paul said...

when the ragheads attacked the the world trade towers and things went boom there was alot of "paper" floating in the air. I don't recall anyone complaining about lost accounts or forever missing documents. If the data on the paper was first generated electronically, someone was smart enough to print out a hard copy-all the "paper". If ebooks are only rooted in electronic data and not in some authors drawer somewhere (spare copy) I would worry. I wonder if that is not the case?; The original is with the author safe and sound ready for the press at a moments notice.

GuyStewart said...

Do people intentionally miss the real point here? I've been doing this same song and dance for months now and people always pick some extraneous thought to jump on. WE ARE CONDEMNING THE POOR TO A LIFE WITHOUT WRITING AND NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE. They prattle on endlessly about data being safe if it's hard copied and the triumph of technology and the saving of trees. What do I need to do -- smack people up side the head?

In a loving way, of course...

Chanel said...

I see the point about eBooks being more easily accesible and environmentally friendly but I LOVE my hard copy books. I love seeing them on my bookshelf, I love reading them in bed or on the couch and I love having them signed by the author. It's not the same on a computer screen and what would happen to book signings? Please don't take away hard copy books.

GuyStewart said...


I must be a crappy writer because the point is still not obvious enough to elicit response...

Paul said...

The poor are with us forever. We feed them, clothe them, deliver their babies, bury them, teach them, give them booze money,house them, give them free food. They may have been rich at some point and are now poor. They may have been poor at some point and are now even more poor and destitute. they are not forgotten by the people who care for them. they are not forgotten by everybody. they are forgotton by the people who don't want to be bothered by them. As long as there are poor people there will be another person who will try to exploit them and still one more to minister to them. I don't know what the illiteracy stats are in this country but there are rich folks that don't read and poor folks that don't read. The poor folks that really want to read MAY find a way to get what they want. The rich folks that really want something WILL find what they want.
I agree that the poor will always be shafted someway or another. They will always be shafted. I agree that the rich will always have access.
Seems that in this mean, egotistical, self-centered, snobbish, self-reliant, prideful, hell-bent, gimmee,gimmee, me,me, me first, it's mine, I did it, I want it, world is ready to fall. I could still be missing the point, but I am not sure if this e-stuff can be stopped. The closer we get to the end, the worse and colder our race will get. Hospital doors are closing, the poor will suffer worse now. Until our LORD comes as He promised there is no hope.
If you are asking the rich, self-centered, profit driven, egotistical, self-reliant to make sure the poor are equally served, you will probably have better luck walking on water. As this economy sinks, so to will the depths of the soul of mankind. Those who are on the bottom will get squashed and those on the top will do what they can to stay there.

William said...

I think there are three main points implied in the original posting.
(1) That Kindle etc., no matter how intriguing, are a "Rich People's" media, out of reach of the poor,
(2) that electronic media are by their nature highly perishable and cannot be relied on to preserve thought, and
(3) that media of all types are increasingly inaccesible to people on the lower rungs of society (try to find a bookstore in a depressed neighborhood--you had a posting about B&N closing the last "poor area" bookstore in Minneapolis a while ago).
I think the last point is the most disturbing--if the poor can't even explore print media, will they make the plunge to invest scarce resources in computers and ebook readers? (Some will--many of my former co-workers were from ghetto upbringings--most valued education but saw computers as something out of their world).
And that's just the USA, We have friends who are missionaries in (African) Guinea--30% literacy, and no books to speak of in most villages. Computers--electrity for an hour or two a day, if you're lucky--and who can afford fancy electronics anyway?
I'll probably get a Kindle (or its successor) too, once a standard is set--but I hope I remember that it is a priviledge of living in a wealthy society, and not forget the value of common, "outdated" print, the media that first made learning and knowledge accsessible to all economic levels.

GuyStewart said...


Next step: solution

Vidad said...

Christian missions. Literacy often follows in the wake of the gospel. Many languages were first put in print by missionaries--and being able to read the Word is a major tenet of the faith. It could be argued that by supporting the spread of the Truth, you'll also spread literacy to the poor. Not as compelling as a Bono concert, perhaps, but longer lasting.