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The Almighty Book vs. the Newcomer Technology, May 19th, 1996 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

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archived soapbox: May 19th, 1996
"The Almighty Book vs. the Newcomer Technology" [permalink]
    keywords: books, technology, Internet, reading, digital books, e-books
    soapbox #: 33
    written: May 19th, 1996
    words: 526

"The Almighty Book vs. the Newcomer Technology", an Essay

My family had an argument about this one a few weeks ago. The dispute was if books could ever be replaced by electronic books of some sort. My mom and I said no, while my dad said yes. Keep in mind that my dad knows very little about computers.

Computers won't replace books completely, or at least for a very long time, because books have the most superior design to almost any technological advance ever made. Bookworms will agree with me -- nothing replaces the feeling of carrying that little paperback book with you everywhere you go, thumbing the pages and taking notes whenever you stop to read. There is no substitute! The book becomes a part of you in that period of time in which you read it. You can curl up by the fire with it when reading, but simply shelf it away when you're done with it. There's something about the tangibility of a book and the simplicity of its design which makes it so appealing. It almost becomes a living thing -- you take care of it and try not to get it wet or dirty. Can a spunky computer challenger overcome something that's been alive and kicking for centuries (like Michael Jackson and the Unabomber)? Well, I guess even Rome fell eventually.

With computers, they don't have that palpable feel yet. When you use a computer, you're sucked into the world it creates. It creates a metaphor for a house and we reinforce it by using jargon such as "opening windows," "emptying the trash," and "cleaning off the desktop." Even something like a Newton pad is too big and can't be manipulated quite like a book. And at the moment, you surely don't READ books on computers on a regular basis.

Reading books on computers or the WWW hasn't caught on because books are so flexible when it comes to flipping pages and continuing the story. On a computer, you have to do some sort of clicking or scrolling to progress the text. Not quite like curling a page corner with your finger before you flip it, huh?

The only way computers will ever become better than books for reading is if someone builds a hand-held unit that works EXACTLY LIKE A BOOK. It would have to be some sort of virtual reality thing that allowed you to flip the pages and take notes. And it would have to be cheap enough so that you wouldn't fear taking it around. A nice added touch would be to allow multiple book cartridges to be inserted so you could read another "book". But then, if this was created, would it really be a book?

I don't know. Maybe I'm showing a rare moment of grumpiness (cough, cough). Things have been said to be impossible before, but I'm definitely one of those people who believe almost anything IS possible. However, there's something about the feel of a book that sways my opinion the other way this time. Maybe technology has reached a couple barriers: simplicity and the impossibility of a "real" interface.



 
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