At the start of the year I read an article proclaiming the death of e-readers in 2011. Yes, the very same tech that saw a boom in 2010 is apparently destined for a premature death just a year later. Madness you’d think. But then again, was it? The argument you see was convergence; the idea that one device should be capable of doing many things. With tablet computing being the buzz-theme at the moment you can see why. Take the iPad; on it you can browse the Internet, play games, music and movies, all whilst tweeting, blogging and emailing to your hearts content. You can even read a book on it. Not forgetting that you can do this with a back-lit screen, so you don’t even need a torch if you go under the covers as you indulge in a little late night guilty Twilight pleasure – reading the book I mean. It’s a solid argument, why on earth would you want a piece of technology that, for all intents and purposes, just allows you to read a book.
Wait though – isn’t that just like a book? For me, the very beauty of the e-reader lies in it’s inherent simplicity. After all, they do aim to replicate an extremely simple medium that has well and truly stood the test of time. Still, it seems paradoxical to suggest that something with so little function should be hailed as the greatest technological advancement of the 21st century, but hear me out.
Books are amazingly wonderful things. They’re portable and accessible, they’re cheap and easy to use. Reading off paper is a joy that cannot be matched by LCD or OLED screens, screens that glare at you with each word. Nothing beats the look and feel of a book, people, myself included, even love the smell. There are few things more impressive or important in this world than a beautifully stocked library. The sentimentality attached to books guarantees we’ll never stop producing them.
Still, in this digital world, there is an argument that books are outdated – yet their longevity just goes to show why they are important and so hard to replace. For e-readers to be a success they needed to imitate books as closely as possible whilst at the same time giving us something very modern, something that can hold vast amounts of information – custom to the user. In my mind, there is no better example than the Amazon Kindle.
What we witness in the Kindle is the coming together of core technologies – connectivity, memory, display and power – in a beautifully simplistic manner that redefines the book for the 21st century. The Kindle is incredibly light, about the same size as a paperback, and one can store so many books on it that it effectively becomes your own person library. This represents what an e-reader should be.
Yes the Kindle can’t perform thousands of different functions, but what it does, it does brilliantly well. For me, books are an escape from the digital world. I spend my days either in front of a computer screen or a television, basked in the glow of artificial light. When I read, I want to be transported away from such displays. When I read the Kindle, I can easily forget that I’m holding a piece of technology in my hand – I’m just reading a book – albeit a book that happens to hold 1000s of other books. The Kindle doesn’t need a touch screen or a back lit display, arguably it doesn’t need features like the Internet Browser or even the text-to-voice system. It just needs to allow me to read.
The thing that really excites me though is an e-reader’s potential to bring knowledge to the masses. The Internet is an amazing knowledge base that can free the world and in many ways has. But its availability isn’t yet as wide reaching as one would hope. The e-reader however, could touch every being on the planet – allowing access to the greatest literary works human kind has every created. One could create a device that has 1000s of the worlds greatest books preloaded on them, delivered in a lightweight portable device – in any language of choice. Removing some of the additional technology would lead way to a ‘dumb’ e-book that could almost be regarded as a throw-away device. It’s low power consumption means it could easily be charged by a wind-up dynamo or a simple solar cell. With no need for the Internet and very little electricity, the e-reader could give a library to every man, woman and child on this earth. Isn’t that what we all deserve? Knowledge is our very birthright. To be able to give that to so many is a outstanding prospect.
We are witnessing a major change in the printed word, arguably the greatest since the printing press. The digital and the physical word are finally combining in a way we’ll never look back from. E-readers are here to stay and they represent the day-to-day future of the book. That said, physical copies will definitely be sticking around. Because, should all technology fail, books will forever be the last bastion of human knowledge.