Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Way of the Future

I never thought I'd reach this point, at least not this soon, but here goes: if all things are equal, I would prefer an e-book over a printed book.

I first heard of e-ink during my internship after college. At that point, it still seemed a distant possibility too good to be true, like the flying cars on Beyond 2000.

"I don't think I could ever get into electronic books," I said, thinking at the moment of the geeky old men I knew who read e-books on their Palm pilots. "It hurts my eyes to look at a computer screen for too long."

"But this is different," my boss said. "It looks just like newsprint, and you can roll it up just like newsprint, only it refreshes with pages of text. You can read anything on it."

When I first saw a Sony Reader, I was amazed. When I saw a Kindle, I was even more amazed. Though the screens weren't very clear (they very much were like newsprint), you could see well enough to read text--and the screen wasn't backlit! When Abby called to tell me there was a display model Sony Reader on sale at the train station and would I like it for Valentine's Day, I jumped at the chance. It was more than we usually spend on gifts (and especially so at the time), but this deal--only $100!--seemed like something too good to pass up.

I got it home and immediately began reading books on it, mostly works from the public domain (which is still the most frequent fare for my e-reader). While I liked reading on it, there were a few drawbacks. One, while the font size could be increased, the contrast wasn't great. Again, like darker newsprint. Two, the reader was heavier than a paperback, so reading on it was really a strength savings only with larger books. (But boy was it worth it reading Brothers Karamazov!) Three, for nonfiction books, there was no easy way to navigate around. Thus, if I lost the trail of the argument the author was making, it seemed easier just to plow forward rather than go back for clarity. And four, because e-books were so hard to navigate, they would never supplant physical books at a book club.

I eventually sold my Sony Reader for a first-generation Barnes & Noble Nook. This was much more promising. The contrast was better (I showed the screen to Abby, saying, "This looks just like a printed book!" She replied by simply showing me her physical book--well played), you could buy books over WiFi, there was a touch screen to use for navigation, even if it was very small, and books purchased were backed up in another location, meaning that a device malfunction would not be the equivalent of the destruction of Alexandria. But again, books on it were hard to navigate, the device itself was still cumbersome, and nonfiction books, while navigable, were most of the time not worth it.

What has finally sold me on e-books? ... This post is long enough. Coming soon.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man. Anticipation.

    I still prefer printed books, but it might just be because I work with ebooks all day long. Sometimes I need to not think about formatting and ebook politics.