Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Do I Want an E-Reader For My Birthday?


Books account for probably a good 80% of my misplaced stuff. You would think by now that I may have begun enforcing a little more restriction on who I lend them to, or treat them with greater value. But books are a possession that ought to be shared and handled; it's always been that way. So it seems innovators of conventional technology feel similarly, as evidenced by the development of e-Book readers.

The name of the product is fairly self explanatory: this new generation of handheld device eliminates the need to purchase printed copies of books. The items themselves run between $200 and $400 but for the same price as the common paperback, users can buy and download an extravagant number of books into their e-Reader and have constant, privileged access to it. Free previews of books are also available. Some brand names that sponsor the products include Apple's iBook, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and Amazon's Kindle. All carry the same basic connotation: they are a handy instrument for the dedicated reader or student, equipped with other fun capabilities such as music storage and wireless access.

Another notable feature is that the user can still lend books to other users of the same product. Most e-Book readers, like the Nook, are equipped with a library-esque function that shares the book file with another e-Reader, usually for about 30 days – after which the borrower no longer has access to the file.

Other new electronics from the industry carry a reader feature – like the iPhone – but a winning trait of the e-Readers is that the screen is intended to emit the same degree of light and reflectivity as a book itself. Already a common complaint regarded of the rivaling and highly anticipated Ipad – celebrated for its savvy shape and size – is that users' eyes are blurring and tearing up within an hour of spending time on it. Staring down at the light-saturated computer screen irritates the vision. The Kindle or Nook have a markedly dully lit screen that is reminiscent of reading a real book.

Most people marvel at the ingenuity behind this new line of product: books are easily lost or destroyed. Shelf life, which ought to be until the biological degradation of paper occurs, typically lasts in accordance with the devotion of its owner. Heavy lenders – like me – are eager to share literary finds with friends and family, only to never have them returned. The scatterbrained – also like me – often lose books and they never reappear. Soggy books are unreadable, as are torn ones. There are certainly glowing implications behind the use of an e-Reader.

Still, the desolation caused by one soggy book would probably be incomparable to the ruination of an entire collection. The same qualities that provide me opportunity, time after time, to ruin books are applicable to this devise. What if I were to clumsily damage my hypothetical e-Reader – by, perhaps, dropping it into a full tub of water while I'm curling up in the bath with a book? It is one thing to destroy or lose a single novel, but what happens when my e-Library literally breaks?

As both a student and devout leisure reader, a part of me understands that products like a handheld, digital library are both exciting and important. The burden of shuttling heavy textbooks to and from school can be eliminated with its ownership, as well as the constant dilemma of losing books to carelessness or lazy borrowers. But as the print media is grappling for purchase in a fast-paced world that requires little to no carrying capacity on the part of its consumers, it seems we are losing touch with the pride that can be accounted for a collection – be it of favorite albums, or books, or handwritten letters. There is this rustic aspect to my character that longs for a library in my home one day, bookcases sagging with the weight of all the books I have been reading all my life.

With the library-esque privileges of the e-Readers, it certainly doesn’t seem implausible that a future could loom in which beloved secondhand bookstores and dusty, comforting libraries that crowd every city and town could become vacant and untouched. One day, I fear, a whole generation of avid e-users will realize they have no physical possession that they wish their children to inherit or to decorate their homes with. As everything becomes digital and contained within gigabyte format, our material representation of ourselves becomes reduced to gadgets. Although these aren’t definitive reasons not to invest in new, easy-does-it technology, they are certainly influences; enough to veer me away, for now, from asking for my own e-Reader.

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