Saturday, December 15, 2012

Papyrus Peaked

Is e-reading really reading?  So asks Andrew Piper, arguing that because our veins and skin-folds partake in the act of turning a page, or reaching for a dusty volume over a step ladder, it is something that the electric form, encased behind its glass wall, can never really equal.  And perhaps he is right.

Even for basic things seemingly well suited for the electric world, like study texts, I still find myself returning to the bulky, impractical-to-transport paper version, and not the iPad-ready alternative.  Added to this is the idea that Amazon seem to view the electronic purchase of a book as a kind of perpetual loan from them to you, and not as something that you can, say, distribute to next-of-kin on death, or keep if your account status might later change.  And if the company were to fold, what then for the labyrinth of personalised cloud libraries developed up to now?

These are good questions to ask, and in his article Piper migrates from Augustine and the codex to Braille and our own ability to 'grasp' the essence of a text.  However, in a review of the same Andrew Martin makes a great observation on the comparative ubiquity of thoughts on this issue (here included):

Fortunately we writers, being writers, can write about this. Whereas I don’t believe I have read a single work by a milkman lamenting that most people now buy their milk from a shop instead of having it delivered, books fretting over the death of print form one of the genres of the moment.

So perhaps in the end we should leave it to the market itself to tell, and if a full migration happens then people must prefer that, so let it be...

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