The digital divide

Saviour of time or the murderer of an art form? Rebecca Long and Jean Morley debate over the
pros and cons of the e-book

Saviour of time or the murderer of an art form? Rebecca Long and Jean Morley debate over the
pros and cons of the e-book

We’re on the verge of a literary revolution. Forget post-modernism, post-colonialism and, definitely post-feminism, are we soon going to be post-books? Thanks to the concept of the E-Book reader, the major change won’t be what we read, but how we go about it. Judging by the rapidity at which major publishing houses are converting their books to digital format, and the anticipation of the Sony E-Reader on this side of the water, digital books appear to be coming into force. Sci-fi writer Robert J Sawyer best summed up the post-paper fervour, predicting the disappearance of paper-books “except as an art-form”. From Home-Economics workbooks to Ikea instruction manuals, who knows what we’ll decide to frame for our walls.

Of course, the rise of the E-Book may be grossly exaggerated. To Sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, the E-Book smells like “burnt fuel”. Despite the advance of the E-Book being predicted in 1990s, it has failed to permeate public consciousness in the same way as the i-pod. Instead of defining a hip generation, E-Books are the preserve of academics and science journal enthusiasts. So are they merely a shortlived fad, or the inescapable fate of our future lives? TN2 staffers go head-to-head to debate the technology.

In Praise of the E-Book (Jean Morley)

From people cursing the concept of writing, and believing that there were demons in the printing press, to current university lecturers’ detesting the online Blackboard system. The idea of a word changing its form never fails to sour public opinion. Given our human propensity to rate tradition over invention and beauty over necessity, it’s easy to understand the ambivalence toward the E-Book. But from an ethical, practical and cultural point of view, the electronic device far exceeds its paperback cousin.

Supporters of the E-Book have the ultimate twenty-first century ethical argument on our side. With the rise of deadly carbon emissions, we can’t afford to keep chopping down the lungs of the Earth. Books have surpassed Christmas trees as symbols of destructive decadence as thousands of forests get churned into pages. Ironically, the same books extolling the virtues of nature are sucking the life out of its leaves. We all knew Wordsworth was a murdering fiend.

People worry that the digital word will reduce the integrity of the idea of a book, but who first demanded that books be a mass of bound paper? Most likely, a monk in some hut on the Skelligs. For the same reason we have made the transition from pony trap to automobile, our conception of literature needs to progress. In an age of electronic empowerment, the E-book makes sense.

The replacement of books with electronic displays will excite even the wariest readers. A book can become an ever-expanding dialogue far more exciting than a stinky yellow tome. Confused about Russian politics? Discussion forums, encyclopaedia entries and recommended books will be one button-push away. Bored by Dostoevsky? Just click centre screen for some puzzles and games. The E-Book will be the ultimate aid to procrastination, and I can’t wait.

Most importantly the E-Book will revolutionise people’s perception of reading. Literary classics will be lifted from coffee tables, instead being pulled out on the bus as items of pop-culture. The i-pod made it cool to love esoteric music – having a penchant for West Hungarian Polka Music has become socially acceptable. Imagine offering your friends the text of the Odyssey. Being proud to say you’ve got 150 books in your bag. I can’t either. But wait for the advent of the E-Book reader.

The Incontrovertible Disadvantages of the Electronic Book (Rebecca Long)

In order to read some E-Books you’ll find you have to shell out a fair quantity of your hard-earned – okay, earned anyway – cash; not only for the purchase of an electronic device but possibly also the peripheral software on which to display it. It is certainly more than you’d spend for your average book, for the set-up alone.

So let’s say you’ve purchased the aforementioned electronic device and you’re set up in front of your little digital screen with a cup of tea and a biccie. Your battery is fully charged, or so you think, and you become completely engrossed in your newest E-Book saga. Then out of nowhere your battery dies and you lose your place. Only it’s not quite so easy as flicking back through the last few pages until you find the sentence you were in the middle of with the E-Book, is it?. You have to get up, find your charger thingy, come back, plug it in, etc. and then you realise your tea has gone cold. Not quite the relaxing read you had in mind hmm?

Or even worse! Your hard disk drive fails! Now I freely admit I’m not exactly technologically savvy but that sounds pretty bad to me. How easy do you think it’s going to be to find someone that can fix that little beauty?
Okay here’s another scenario. You’re a careless person – like me – and you leave your latest paperback book in Starbucks. Hours later you rush back, hoping against hope that some evil person with a chai tea latte obsession hasn’t spirited it away because you actually have to know what happens in that climatic final chapter. Odds are it’s still there. Now let’s try that scenario again, only this time you’ve left your uber expensive electronic reader device thingy behind. Do you really think it will be there when you get back?

What about the smell and feel of a new book? The action of physically turning the pages? Or the character and charm of second-hand book? Curling up with a good book on a rainy night is a most exquisite pleasure, and one that just doesn’t translate to the idea of sitting down in front of a good computer.

Okay, I’ve done enough preaching about the sanctity of the paperback and the travesty that is the E-Book. I’ll leave you instead with what one website gleefully informed me. Apparently I can now, with the appropriate and of course suitably expensive technology, create “amazing 3-D page turning Ebooks in minutes with new software, such as Desktop Author.” Oh, Please. That’s what’s known as a real book, thank you very much.