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E-books: It's not the medium, it's the message

Whether it comes in hardcover, paperback or an LCD screen framed by high-grade plastic, you still can’t judge a book by its cover.

That’s a prevailing theme in the comments readers submitted to Trudy Walsh’s musings on our growing attachment to electronic devices in the wake of Amazon’s beta release of Kindle for BlackBerry.


Is Kindle for BlackBerry a sign that we're forgetting how to appreciate a book?

Many readers focused on the convenience of books in electronic form, emphasizing that content is what counts, regardless of the format. But a few did tackle Walsh’s larger question about what might be lost in a world of constant electronic information. One even offered a "Twilight Zone" parable.

“It's the reading that matters,” wrote one reader, who also mentioned that printed books can create a storage problem. “The form is just a means to convey the ideas. Whether I read a paper copy of a book or my B&N Nook's e-ink, it is still the ideas that run around in my mind that stimulates my thoughts. I've given up trying to find places to store all of my books (several thousand). I've realized that being able to read is more important than having a place to store the paper copy. I enjoy reading Kindle and Nook books on my Nook, Blackberry, iPod Touch, PC, and Mac.”

BigGoofyGuy in New Jersey agreed, also raising the conservation issue: “E-books are not a replacement for books but for printed material. It helps save trees that would be cut down to make paper for books; especially paperback books. I think it would promote reading since it makes it easier to read books that are easier to carry with you. One can still use one’s imagination while reading an e-book. Since it allows anyone time to read a book anywhere, I think it will increase the appreciation of books and not decrease it.”

“I will read a book using any tool available,” added a reader from Gambrills, Md. “Kindle on so many platforms makes it that much easier for me without overdue fines, losing the books in my house, or forgetting to bring them with me. In addition, Kindle keeps your place in the books you read, no matter which of your devices accessed the books last.”

People who have resisted e-books so far often cite a preference for the physical act of reading a book, but some readers say they prefer using an electronic device.

Avid Reader in Idaho wrote: “I love reading, but my hands go to sleep if I'm holding a book for too long and paperbacks don't lay down on tables/desks very well, the Kindle has made it easier to ready more without the pain.”

“I love to read. I fall asleep that way,” contributed 2010 commuter in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes I stay up all night because I've got a real page turner; no problem; love it. I also have an hour and 15 minute commute each way. But I've got books on CD / tape. Great way to 'read.' I agree with others; it's the read that's fun. I'd rather carry around one BlackBerry than a BlackBerry and a Kindle too, plus real books, another phone, separate navigation system, etc. Our grandkids might not even have books at all. Better get used to it. You can still curl up ;-) .”

Although e-readers are getting a lot of attention this year, Book Addict pointed out that electronic books aren’t new: “You leave off one thing. I have been using Microsoft E-books for almost 10 years on my Pocket PCs. … Life is full of hurry up and wait. Carrying around a couple of books isn't always practical or acceptable. But a PDA fits in my pocket and has about 5 hours of battery life. It makes allot of things much easier and less stressful.”

On the downside, Book Person is concerned about the price of e-books: “I enjoy curling up in the corner of a couch or taking to the gym a book that I got from the library. If I choose to download a book onto Kindle or other device, it will not be free. I read on average 4 books every 3 weeks; downloading would be, for me, a very expensive proposition.”

However, another reader, while arguing that you can use electronic devices without being ruled by them, pointed out that libraries provide electronic books, too.

“What no one ever points out with the technology is ruining our society argument is that everyone has choices. Technology only adds to our choices. What we choose to do is our responsibility,” the writer stated. “I control the BlackBerry and what I do with it. Sometimes I answer an e-mail right now. Sometimes it waits while I read my copy of Dexter on MobiPocket. Which I downloaded free from my local library's Web site. It's all about choices.”

But does the prevalence of electronic devices make the choices more difficult. Walsh wondered about whether people think less and interact less as a result of constantly being tied to electronic device.

“I agree -- I think about this all the time when I see my kids watching TV, playing a video game, etc.,” wrote one reader. “Kids do what mom and dad does, so as a parent, I try to use such things sparingly in front of my kids. I encourage my kids to go outside and play, and if not practical, get out the scissors, paper and glue. I see a big difference in children’s personality after they have played video games for an extended time -- and not for the better. Imagination and interactive playing really do make kinder people.”

“I agree with you completely,” added Templeton in Washington, D.C. “I think the overdependence on electronic devices may be society’s downfall. I use You Tube or other resources on the Internet for research, but I don't have and don't want a smart phone, iPod, iPad, iPhone, Kindle or any of the like.

“I recall the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode with Bruce Weitz (of “Hill Street Blues”) as an individual in jail in a slightly future American city,” Templeton continued. “He is going to be executed because he destroyed his personal electronic device, plus the ones in his house, car, work space, etc. While he was telling his attorney he was glad to be rid of them and didn't care about his upcoming demise, he grew to hate the fact that people couldn't get away from themselves. Music, news and other information was forcefully streamed to people everywhere, so you couldn't have a private thought or quiet moment. At the end of the episode, the lawyer is in his office and suddenly realizes he is also bombarded by white noise and throws the device on his desk, out the window. That of course started sirens so the police could arrest him. I think we are too dependent on these devices and the manufacturers are creating ‘future shock,’ by making tools that are slated as ‘have-to-have’ and they are only worried about their profit margins.”

Meanwhile, Gene in Lincoln, Neb., brought the convergence of mediums into the mix. “

"Marshal McLuhan said that print, linear in nature, is the medium of Western individualism, and that the simultaneity of video screen media harkens back to pre-modern oral social traditions,” he wrote. “Hypertext and video links to text, available on e-book devices, are blurring those distinctions. Multiculturalism indeed!”

And finally, one other reader kept it succinct: “Anything that gets people to read more is a good thing.”

Posted by Kevin McCaney on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:39 AM


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