Nothing really exists any more, does it?
|April 27, 2012||Posted by Dan Peacock under culture|
I’m not being philosophical here. I’m talking about Kindles.
Until very recently, I was a self-confessed anti-Kindle enthusiast. I loved the idea of a huge, vibrant bookshelf overflowing with novels that took up an entire wall of my house like some gargantuan art installation or archive of knowledge. I loved the feel of a well-thumbed, dog-eared paperback in my hands, knowing by touch how often it had been read; the feel when I turned a page. That “new book smell”. Corners folded over where I had I found a passage or sentence that I enjoyed. And I hated the idea of all this being washed away only to be replaced by a lifeless gadget.
I’m sure the same thing happened years ago when Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPod. Music enthusiasts, still reeling from the foundation-shattering vinyl-to-CD shift, would have been petrified by this new-fangled gizmo. Were they right? 10 years on, virtually everyone under 25 has an iPod of some variety. Download sales are through the roof and HMV stores are closing down left, right and centre. The CD is dying. The iPod is digging a grave for it, right beside the Sony Walkman and the 8-inch vinyl. (May they rest in peace.)
And now we see the same digital revolution gaining momentum on the literary front. Although they haven’t been the breakout success that Amazon expected, Kindles and other e-readers have nevertheless become a worldwide phenomenon. Recently, it was announced that ebook sales have overtaken “real” book sales for the first time. It’s happening all over again, and the physical book’s days are numbered.
I feel a strange sense of unease at all this. Somehow, a book on a screen and an album downloaded from iTunes don’t seem as real as the paperback book and the CD I can physically touch or pick off a shelf. It seems almost as if the media industry – music, books, maybe even movies – is being engineered to be put on a flash drive. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it bears a strange similarity to putting all your eggs in one basket. You dropped a book? Worst case scenario, a couple of pages are crumpled. But drop a Kindle onto concrete? Oops, you just lost seven-and-a-half-thousand books to cyber oblivion.
I’m by no means a technophobe, but I think computers and machines are soulless. And that’s why I hate myself for getting a Kindle. Granted, the e-ink display is easy to read and doesn’t hurt your eyes like normal screens. Granted, they’re actually easier to hold for long periods of time, especially compared to colossal door-stopper hardbacks, and it’s impossible to lose your place. Granted, the handy built-in dictionary is useful for – oh, what the hell. I love my Kindle. After a few weeks with it, I’d rather read on it than pick up a paperback.
The same anti-Kindle arguments pop up again and again, but I think it’s safe to say that a lot of those complaints come from people who like their bookshelves as more of a decoration than an enjoyable pastime. Overflowing bookshelves look amazing, sure, but anyone using them to show off rather than for their own enjoyment is really missing the point. The actual medium through which text is read is no different – just the means by which you receive it.
I do feel a little guilty for essentially abandoning physical books, in the same way that I feel guilty for downloading CDs digitally rather than buying actual copies. But, like it or not, it’s the future. Our generation has abandoned the CD, and the MP3 dances on its grave. The music you listen to is still the same music, though. And reading a book leaves the same message, the same feelings, regardless of whether it is read in paperback or on a Kindle. You read the same words, didn’t you?
At the end of the day, the whole “book readers vs Kindle readers” argument seems a little reminiscent of the feud between the Protestants and the Catholics. After all, don’t they worship the same God?