Open Thinkering


Your anti-ebook rhetoric is like a broken record.

To be honest, I’m not particularly bothered whether you, on a personal level, decide that you don’t like ebooks and you prefer dead trees.

That’s fine.

actively prefer the former over the latter, so I do mind your Luddite-style arguments attempting to castigate others whilst appealing to some kind of external, objective value. If you’re in a position of influence within an organization, then your reactionary stance on ebooks makes you a barrier.

These are the 3 types arguments I hear most often:

1. I like sharing books

That’s great! Good for you. My liking ebooks obviously makes me A Bad Person.

2. There’s just something about…

…the smell, the cracking of the spine, etc. Erm, that’s a fetish.

3. Ebooks strain my eyes

I completely take onboard your point about reading anything of any length on a backlit screen. But that argument just doesn’t stand up with e-ink screens as featured on the Amazon Kindle.

Got a different anti-ebook argument? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

***Update*** Many thanks to ‘atw’ in the comments below who adds a fourth argument I hear often:

I like paper books because I can stick them in my purse and they never run out of batteries!

13 thoughts on “Your anti-ebook rhetoric is like a broken record.

  1. Why encourage anti ? I think the narrow bandwidth of the web can lead to upset as it is.

    My colleague has one of everything (even a pacemaker) others prefer something that does everything. Horses for courses …

  2. I have been disappointed that the Kindle we got only lasted a year or so, and then the screen failed. It is too fragile, it seems. I like paper books because I can stick them in my purse and they never run out of batteries! 🙂

    1. Thanks. That was number four – I *knew* there was another one!

      Battery life on ereaders is excellent. So, whilst you’re carrying one book around I’ve got several hundred. It’s like having a reference library on-tap. 🙂

  3. I’ve never heard anti e-book rhetoric. What does it sound like? Who says it? Am I moving in the wrong circles? And my only broken record is a Pixies album that I love – please don’t make that comparison.

    I love that your tone is so not like the normal agreeism found in many web places.

  4. Not sure what happened in the end but didn’t Amazon pull back ‘1984’ after users had bought it? Regardless of the ethics, that technological/commercial fragility is a bit of a concern.
    Am I a paper fetishist? Perhaps – but I also prefer to drink wine from a glass than a mug, though the taste is much the same. As I sit in my study and my eyes roam over the landscape of the books, my brain makes connections in ways that it doesn’t if I look down a catalogue of books or even browse my librarything book covers. Sure you can have access to vast arrays of books with an e-book … or any browser. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure e-books have an important place in education, I might even buy a reader (other than my PCs and iPhone) one day. For students, carrying their entire library of books in one device saves backpain if nothing else. That said, for some students e-books are not robust enough, though for some REAL books are not robust enough. E-books probably survive less well in the bath, in the rain, in a coffee puddle or as a doorstop or desk table de-wobbler.
    I AM impressed by the ease of e-ink on the eye but there’s a certain monotony to seeing all books on the same perfect background. I think there’s a real useful space for e-books at school, particularly if they are sufficiently rugged. I just really haven’t had any desire to start to invest in that medium personally except when a book was unavailable in any other format (when it then became locked to the a small number of electronic devices rather than giving me the freedom to take it anywhere (before the days of Kindle etc.) maybe that’s what puts me off. There’s a stronger sense of personal ownership for me with a paper book.

      1. I think this is likely to wander off at a bit of a tangent …
        Before I do let me summarise my position. Like you I’m not particularly bothered whether someone , on a personal level, decides that they prefer ebooks or paper versions.

        I’m not anti-e-book but I regard them as something new, filling a space which overlaps with most existing books but not filling that space, even in schools. For many students e-books offer a really useful way of accessing the ideas in the vast majority of books. I wholeheartedly support the notion of schools and others exploring how e-books might best be used. No castigation there I think.

        I do think that any notion of WHOLESALE replacement of books by ebooks is something to be considered carefully, at the moment, I think such notions should be challenged. I don’t think you are suggesting that wholesale replacement (are you?), but in the microcosm of a school the limited resources mean that there may well be some tension between an e-book roll out and budget for a library which includes a substantial number of paper texts.

        Appreciating more than the ideas that the squiggles of ink (or e-ink) invoke is part the response (intentionally designed in by the author) invoked by reading and referring to a book. This is not fetishism; it’s not supernatural, unquestioning or sexual; it is definitely to do with what is invoked by the senses though.

        Though by background is science and IT, I’ve done a little work with artists and they certainly have great regard for the physicality of the books (the weight and quality of the paper, the page size, the beauty of the font etc.) they are involved with producing as well as the ideas expressed inside. Some e-readers allow you to replace the font and most will repaginate by allowing font sizes to be changed, I think. This ‘re-editing’ by the reader probably has little effect for many texts – but for others it changes the intent of the author/publisher. If those changes are made unthinkingly and routinely, I think we lose something.

        In addition, when I am writing, simply looking at my bookshelves triggers memories and connections in a way that skimming a list of titles does not and the individuality of the books physical nature aids that process. I guess I could hyperlink each fleeting association I make and then visualise that but that would be an enormous effort.

        I have no desire to smash e-books; a preference for paper is not necessarily Luddite.
        Thanks for prompting these thoughts.

        1. Thanks Bob. I would question your point about:

          “Appreciating more than the ideas that the squiggles of ink (or e-ink) invoke is part the response (intentionally designed in by the author)”

          The only authors who have control over fonts and the design of the book jacket are those who either self-publish (i.e. not well-known) or big-name, famous authors. That’s why we have different editions in the UK than the US and each republishing of the book looking different.

          1. Hi Doug, hope continuing this line of thought isn’t seen as argumentative. It’s not intended that way.

            Maybe I should have said ‘can be’ rather than ‘is’ (part of the response to a book intentionally designed in by the author/publisher). My work/conversations with artists are very limited. One artist I know falls pretty clearly into the self-publish arena. Another, though, is an artist who has only fairly recently broken through into commercial mainstream but now has work in the Tate and exhibits internationally. At around the time of their breakthrough the artist was kind enough to send me (unsolicited) a pdf of the entire retrospective book before it was published. When I thanked them I also warned them against releasing what I thought was likely to be valuable IP ‘willy nilly’ The artist said that the pdf, even with its high quality illustrations was by no means the whole of the book. The physicality was an important facet, their description of the value of the book encompassed the quality and weight of the paper used as much as it did when they described their graphic art pieces. In other conversations it became apparent that the this artist’s values were ones which were wider than my my own, or at least were more clearly articulated.

            I admitted that the re-editing will often not have a significant impact, sometimes it will improve readability. On the other hand, I hoped to justify the assertion that, at least in some cases, appreciation of the physicality of a paper book was not fetishistic. I still question your use of that word in this context.

            The more I think about this question, the more sub questions bubble up.

            I’m intrigued to know how books such as those of Mark Danielewski render on e book, with their inverted/rotated passages of text. The Amazon ‘look inside’ suggests that the orientation of the text and fonts are retained, which I guess suggests that some e-book producers regard that the faithful rendering of the words (not just the words themselves) is important, at least for some texts. It also obviously demonstrates that some aspects of rendering can be carried through to e-ink. Overall, though, I think it would be an oversimplification to judge that all the useful value in a book is that which happens to be transferable to an e-book with today’s technology.

            Bringing this back to education, and thinking about how the physical nature of a book contributes to its value, I think at present it’s reasonable to question the page size of e-readers. In science there are many series of school texts which work with a ‘double page spread’ where the whole of a lesson’s objectives are in some way encapsulated in one ‘gaze-ful’. That reminded me of studies I heard about when I was a programmer that underlined the importance of where page breaks fell in code and documentation. They could either assist or partially obstruct/delay understanding by chunking information in a way that required a page to be turned to read the whole of a chunk or not.

            None of this is anti e-book. Maybe we should concentrate on using any remaining ‘paper book budget’ on books which have specific value in the paper format, large scale lush illustration, large page format, maybe graphic art content or typographic oddities like elvish or hieroglyphs. Not sure where poetry sits.

            Maybe we should highlight a potential market for larger screen e-readers.

            I agree that e-readers bring new value and functionality to text, but I see it as a trade with a cost, not a pure addition, unless schools/society use both (ebooks and paper)

            I do not think that [present] e-readers and e-books can replace paper books with no loss of value/fidelity. But, even with your clear preference for e-readers, I remain unclear whether you would advocate a complete replacement of paper books with e-readers in a school.

            I’d strongly advocate trialling ebooks in schools in different subjects and in different year groups. I’d also strongly advocate against any strategic idea of replacing a school’s book stock with e-books, given current technology, without very careful consideration.

  5. I have a Sony Reader that I love a lot. I’ve read far more books on it than dead trees since I got it. I find the experience anjoyable — and it’s a great encourager of me to try public domain books I’d never get around to read. I read James’s Portrait of a Lady recently, out in full sunlight on my back patio — sublime.

    But I hate, not on a personal level, but on a social level, buying DRMed books. I think it’s harmful to society as a whole that we can’t pass books back and forth. I think a bunch of lives have been saved and made meaningful by books passed back and forth. And I think it’s our right, as co-creators of this society we live in, to insist that corporations support that public good. I feel like my purchase of DRM’ed books hurts other people — in cures not found, lives list, political insights not had because we created a society which used tech to inhibit the flow of ideas. So I’m in a bind.

    I deal with that by trying to get people to understand how DRM hurts the public interest, and where possible reading new open books over DRM’d ones. I’m not sure where that puts me on your spectrum.

    Hey, how do you like DISQUS? Been thinking of using it.

  6. I don’t have a kindle, etc. but find the ebook app I have for my phone has made a difference to the amount I read. It’s there whenever I have a short break, or nothing to do, whereas carrying a paper book around with me needs some forward planning. Plus with the light levels around (pushing 50 means the eyes aren’t so good) having the backlit large font size is great. And there’s enough public domain books out there that I never have to pay for a book ever again! and with the other rationales for paper books, the smell and the cracking of spine, I’m sure there’s an app for that somewhere …

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