I’m thankful for many things–family, friends/colleagues, health, the new position…
I’m also thankful that I’m not really writing about ebooks and ebook devices these days. ‘Cause then, you know, I’d probably want to write something about the Kindle (do you really need a link?). Which would probably mean offering opinions about it.
And, well, I don’t particularly have them–except for the obvious ones: The Kindle no more spells the end of print books than any other ebook reader has. (Nor, I’m pretty nearly certain, does Jeff Bezos imagine that it would or should.)
Beyond that? I wouldn’t buy one–but I’m not much for portable electronics anyway, so I’m not a good case study. I haven’t really seen it or used it, any more than I’ve really seen the last sure-fire ebook device from Sony.
The wealth of commentary in various sources is amusing. Gee, textbooks-as-ebooks might make a lot of sense! (I’ve been saying that for something over a decade, so I’m hardly likely to disagree.) DRM-heavy ebooks take away practices that book readers are familiar with, like lending books, giving them away, buying them used and selling them back to used bookstores. (True. Not, to be sure, a death sentence for DRM or ebooks.)
Then there are the really peculiar ones. I’ll name two, the second one bringing us back to the title of this post:
- Given that some day, some ebook device really will function well and sell well (which I don’t regard as a certainty, but let’s assume it for the same of this argument), you shouldn’t be negative about this ebook device because you’ll eventually look silly. Some syllogism: The Palm Pilot worked, therefore people were wrong to be negative about the Apple Newton. Huh?
- The conversion of all print to digital form is, once again, inevitable. Why? Just because, apparently–I guess because “everything goes digital.”
I’ve seen one interesting rejoinder to that second claim–namely that most of us still don’t eat bytes and are unlikely to do so in the future. That rejoinder as it stands is nonsensical, to be sure.
But let’s modify it a little. I certainly remember some years (decades?) back when some futurists assured us that we’d all eat food pills in place of regular food, assuring us balanced nutrition and saving us all the time and effort of meal preparation.
Food pills (or meal bars, if you will) would theoretically save a lot more than that. Assuming that food pills were prepared where food itself was produced–in farm country, that is–you’d have enormous energy savings because you’d just be transporting those little pills/bars instead of all those raw ingredients and packaged foods. You could probably package a day’s diet (say 2,000 calories) into half a pound of meal bars–not a whole lot less, since as far as I know you can’t get more than nine calories per gram and it’s hard to make a balanced meal of pure fat.
Still, that’s a lot less transport. And, of course, a whole lot less wastage and garbage, with the food being processed once, period.
So isn’t it odd that we aren’t all eating food pills or meal bars. Some of us may eat “meal bars” (most of which are much less than a meal’s worth of food) but not exclusively.
Why not? We choose not to. And, oddly enough, very few futurists now suggest that we will ever switch to eating wholly processed pseudofood, or that it would be desirable to do so. Instead, if anything, the momentum is toward “slow food”–buying as much locally-sourced food as possible.
Here’s a case where the high-tech solution really would have demonstrably good consequences–along with some demonstrably bad ones and a whole bunch of unknowns. Inevitable? Not even likely, now or in the future.
Will print books ever be replaced entirely by ebooks? I think it unlikely–but since I’m certain I won’t be around long enough to see it if it ever does happen, I’m not worrying about it one way or the other.
Will the Kindle do brilliantly or fail? I have no idea. Is it a great device or a terrible one? I have no idea.