Cardinal Column #2: Digital Books

(Editor’s note: My first formal Cardinal column, written as an experiment for a mainstream format. The opening clearly reflects my two-paragraph introduction style, getting attention and then getting to the meat of the story. I wanted to go with a set topic, so I raided the news for stories on the libraries and players in the field. Thanks to Yahoo! and CNN for being such as reliable source of column ideas as the year went on.

I agree with some of my points, even though I’ve had an iPod for a few years now and have grown quite fond of some audio books, particularly ones read by William S. Burroughs himself – although I touch on that topic much later in the year’s run. I still prefer the bookshelf groaning under its own weight to an overbooked hard drive, but my mind is more open than it was three years ago.

I plan to revisit this topic at a later date, especially with readers such as the Amazon Kindle moving to the forefront. Hopefully I’m famous enough to qualify for a free one.)

Technology digitally divides up Les’ leisure time

Originally printed in The Daily Cardinal, September 14, 2005

These days, technology seems to have an obsession with making things smaller and smarter. Apple recently introduced the iPod Nano, an MP3 player that holds more songs than a jukebox and weighs less then the change I need for laundry. Samsung is working a flash drive that, at 12 gigs, make it not even necessary to store data on a hard drive.

And now, that obsession with shrinking things has targeted one of the oldest institutions in the world: books. Over the summer, a string of developments have pushed books into a digital format, possibly leading to a new trend of putting books in headphones and computer screens as opposed to printed pages.

I first noticed this trend during a search for the latest novel releases online, when I saw that libraries in Ohio, Arizona and New York have begun adding audiobooks to their catalogue. The files can be checked out by multiple patrons and rendered inactive after the due date, already taking into account the forgetfulness of most readers.

No fewer than three days after this announcement, online bookstore Amazon announced they’ll be offering downloads of short stories and sample chapters for only 49 cents. Authors like Terry Brooks and Danielle Steel have already signed deals for exclusive material, delivering romance and can now be delivered straight to the desktop.

And, as no movement can be successful without a celebrity endorsement, J.K. Rowling has scaled down her pile of money and announced she’ll be releasing the entire Harry Potter series through iTunes. Her decision was made to combat the piracy of her books, but I predict the ability to sell each volume for $32 cast a spell on her.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how to regard this movement toward the digital. Of course, reading a book on screen makes it easier to pretend to work at the office and an MP3 player is easier to carry around than four paperbacks in my pockets (the trick is to invest in cargo pants), but I’m a little reluctant to depart from my classic format.

I like being able to pull out a dog-eared paperback or a thick hardcover, flick the pages between my fingers and go over the same spot ten or twenty times over the course of one reading – it’s as much a part of reading as the plot. If I turn my traditional reading focus to a computer screen or headphones, I’ll be blind and deaf within five years.

And if the upgrade to digital book becomes more prevalent, it will phase out all the old tricks I learned over the years. It takes years of practice to balance a sci-fi novel inside a textbook or notebook and keep it hidden from the prying eyes of teachers, and the muscle strength of carrying a loaded backpack from the library doesn’t develop overnight.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but I’m personally happier keeping my library on a shelf than on three CD’s. If that’s the way of the times though, maybe it’s finally time for me to invest in that iPod.


One Response to Cardinal Column #2: Digital Books

  1. Loren Paz says:

    For some reason I find it harder to read books on a computer screen for long periods of time. It is much easier and more comfortable reading a actual book on a couch or lawn chair for me.

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