Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is the ink-and-paper book on its way out?

There is much discussion about the future of books - will everything be digitized? Will books no longer exist in the beloved format we grew up with?

It wasn't until college that I made the shift to using a computer to write papers. Yep, that's how ancient I am. At first, I had to write everything out on paper and then type it into the computer. I didn't actually compose anything on the computer for a few years. It just felt, well, weird. Little by little I began writing drafts of things on the computer, which I would then print out, edit on the printout with colored pens, and then enter the edits on the computer. These days I don't even have a paper printout of most things I'm working on. I don't know what I'd do without word's "track changes" feature!

The same thing goes for reading things on the computer. It's kind of funny to notice that many people at work in the generation older than I am tend to print out their email and use lots of paper file folders to organize and store things. It was a revelation to some of them when I showed them how to make subfolders in Outlook to organize their email messages - they'd been printing everything that might be important and filing it away. And whenever something is longer than a few paragraphs, they print it out to read it. Reading from the computer screen feels hard on their eyes.

I laughed so hard the other day when I was reading a book. I was wondering what time it was, and instead of looking at my watch I glanced down at the right-hand corner of the book, and I was surprised when I didn't find a clock there, like I do on my computer screen! I read a lot straight from my computer, especially since I got a laptop a few years ago.

So it isn't much of a stretch to think that younger generations are not going to have that warm, fuzzy feeling from holding a paper-and-ink book in their hands. Maybe the thought of using a book someone else has read, complete with coffee stains and sticky spots will be revolting to them - they may well be used to reading books on their own personal devices. These "books" won't rip, warp, smell like secondhand smoke or get spots of mildew on them. They may well be waterproof and happily hang out in the bathtub or at the beach. Who knows?

Here is a review of the new Sony reader. Here is one on amazingly thin, flexible electronic paper. And for more information about the very cool item in the picture above, check out this article about Seiko Epson's UXGA e-paper display.

What about you? Do you think that one day you will curl up with a digital book? Or do you think our paper friends will be around for a long, long time?


  1. I can assure you that I will never give up my beloved ink and paper books. They are just as much a part of the experience of a book for me as the story itself. I love the experience of a book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the cover, the smell, the paper...all that. I could never switch to electronic books. I don't even do audio books! Though if those devices get more people reading, I'm all for's just not for me.

  2. I think paper will be around for a long time. I practically grew up with a mouse in hand but I'm still resistant to ebooks and e-readers simply because of all the DRM issues. If publishers get the DRM thing in hand, I think I'd be more likely to change over.

  3. Like you, I didn't start using a computer to write papers until college. Before that, I used a typewriter and LOTS of white-out.

    That is a very funny story about looking at the bottom right corner of your book to get the time! I'm surprised I haven't done that yet.

  4. this is something that i think has potential in more than one way.. For one thing it would be wonderful if it was made to stand on it's own for people like my brother who had a stroke and only has use of one hand. The "holders" for books still require two hands to turn pages successfully without eventually tearing a page or so.. but if it becomes something to sit in front of you it would be a wonderful thing for those who cannot "handle" a book.

    The other thing I see good from something like this is that all books would be put on dvd or in a memory card.. therefore not deminish and eventually turn brown and brittle. A storage for the future.

    But for myself.. I love as long as I have a crawl space to my bed.. books it is!

  5. Chris - I love your passion and dedication to reading and books! I love the smell of books, too (new ones, especially - certainly not many of the ones we get as donations to my library!).

    Dance Chica - Yes, it will be interesting to see how digital rights management develops. There's always such a big to-do when technology suddenly changes the way things work, isn't there!

    Devinoni - when I graduated from high school my parents gave me a typewriter that had a WHOLE line of memory and built-in corrector tape, so you could backspace and erase things. It was SO cool! :-)

    Deslily - that is an excellent point about disabled people being able to gain so much as technology advances. And I also like the idea of being able to preserve books digitally. There is also the challenge of having to keep on upgrading and re-transferring so that nothing is lost as technology advances.

  6. I love my ink and paper books too but sometimes I find it hard on my wrists and wouldn't mind having a few ebooks now and then. Of course if the time comes when ebooks start replacing books then it will be just like DVDs replacing VHS's. Not everything is available on DVD and I enjoy watching some great old stuff from my VHS collection all the time.

    Wouldn't it be cool though if books came with bonus features like interviews with the author etc. though?!

  7. I am a big fan of traditional paper and ink books, but I do think I will give them up one day, simply because mankind can't afford to cut down trees at this rhythm for much longer.

    I think that we'll inevitably reach a point when everything is digital. How far in the future that point is, I don't know. And when it does come, I will really miss paper books, but I'll try to adapt as well as possible.

  8. It's funny reading this post today! I just read an article about Hardback books, and how they might not be getting published. I can not imagine not reading books. BOOKS. Not e-readers and mp3's!! Actual paper books!!

  9. It's hard for me to imagine, too! I doubt books will disappear for a long, long time - one problem with the idea all of these new ebooks and readers and such replacing books altogether is that regular old-fashioned books still work perfectly well! (Except, as Deslily mentioned, for people with some disabilities.)

  10. hey Darla, that cracked my pants in two! i love that you looked for the clock in the bottom right hand!

    i don't read books online, but i do notice that i'm more likely to read a full newspaper or magazine article if it's on the computer than if it's in paper form. i think it's because i'm easily distracted. if the article is in the magazine, i have to put it aside to do something and i may not get back to it as quickly. however, if i have the article up on line and i'm distracted, i just keep it open in the window and get back to it as i get back to work.

    as far as the fate of the book: i dunno. interesting question. i like the feel of the book in my hand and turning the pages and other peoples' dog ears and notes. i also like libraries and used bookstores and new bookstores. there's little doubt in my mind that books will be with us for at least the next century - if for no other reason than the gap between the techno-haves and have-nots doesn't seem to be closing very rapidly. however, it would be curious to see how it ultimately plays out. will books become like Vinyl records: something that only afficianados crave? or will they go the way of the painted portrait, once the camera became accessible to the masses: a symbol of status or novel privelege?

  11. Please consider joining my Japanese Literature Challenge. The details came be found at:

    I'd love to talk more books with you!

  12. Thanks for the invite, Bellezza - now that my semester is over and I have time to breathe, I will check it out!


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