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Print Is Dead (Along With Everything Else) — Get Over It

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Listen to Egon -- He's Smarter Than You

Lots of nerds went crazy two weeks ago when it was announced that Amazon had sold more e-books than hardcovers for Q2 of this year (which if you actually think about it is not that significant — who still wants hardcovers anyway . . . how they do against paperbacks is the real test).  But it’s still a ‘breakthrough’ moment many have been waiting for, another milestone in the transition to a paperless world.

Personally, I’m all for it, and have been for a while now.  I love the idea of having all my books, movies, TV shows, comics, music and pictures all on one device that can easily slip into my bag and I’m off, especially given my extremely peripatetic nature.  I left twelve boxes of books at home — now, my entire library can be portable and weigh in under a kilo.  I don’t need to haul around hundreds of DVDs, or CDs, or (shakes head) vinyl records; everything can go on my computer; and as soon as there’s an iPad (or iPad equivalent) that’s reasonably-priced and has Skype, I’m there.

But, of course, there will be some who will bewail this evolution, who will sputter on and on about how this change will kill the culture as we know it, how taking away all our objects — by turning media into pure ideas instead of stuff — is bad.

So I’m here to say — bullshit.  It’s actually a very positive change for many reasons.

First, as I’ve already alluded to, you can carry everything — literally everything — on one computer or e-reader.  And, as was partly discussed in this post and the comments already, many large entertainment-media companies are probably looking at ways to simply stream everything online as opposed to giving people actual ownership of the property (something I don’t like, but if they go that route, what can we do . . . it’s their property, after all); so if that ends up happening, we won’t be given the opportunity to own stuff anyway.

Secondly, this change will (hopefully) eliminate one of the more annoying personality types out there today, one which certainly caused me a lot of grief in my youth — the ‘counter-culture fetishist.’

Read this article by Mark Oppenheimer.  The basic premise is that this dude laments this step forward in media acquisition because then he can’t use a woman’s book or CD collection to judge her as a suitable-or-not romantic interest.  Sorry, I should say ‘pre-judge’ . . . as in ‘prejudice.’  Yes, he seems to think it’s good behaviour to, when you just meet someone or as a way of meeting someone, use their artistic tastes as a measuring-stick of their worth as a person; the classic ‘it’s not who you are, it’s what you like’ thing from High Fidelity.  He tries to make a concession . . .

“This is a delicate matter. I can already hear some readers turning the page (perhaps a Kindle “page”), muttering that only an elitist jerk picks friends or lovers based on what they can be seen reading. Well, maybe. This essay is for the rest of you . . .”

. . . but yeah, it is elitist, and it’s exactly those ‘rest of you’ people I can’t stand.  I was constantly judged by my music/literary tastes in university and it both confused the hell out of me (because I didn’t realize people could be that shallow) and severely pissed me off.  I remember having a conversation with a girl one day, where we got talking about the movie Waking Life, and she said “God, I hate that movie; I could never like anyone who liked that movie.”  And of course I thought, ‘Holy Christ, that’s a bit extreme isn’t it?”  I’ve had friends tell me that they would never read any book which appeared on a bestsellers list, simply due to its popularity; a more literal example of ‘judging a book by its cover’ cannot be found.  This is basically the same thing Oppenheimer is saying — if you like some movie or music that I don’t, I will use that as the sole criteria to judge your worth as a friend or a mate.  It’s lame.  Why not go for the opposite reaction — ‘hey, you seem sweet and intelligent, but you don’t need to listen to Miley Cyrus . . . here, let me introduce you to some good music.’  Et voila.

So this is why taking our tastes out of public view — unless we purposefully choose to show them — is not really a bad thing; it will force people to get to know each other the old fashioned way, through conversation and the exploration of ideas and opinions, instead of just a quick glance over a shelf.  Of course, what could happen is that people just take that excess ‘judmentalness’ and apply it to clothing choices, even more so than now.  Look out.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, August 11, 2010 10:51 am

    While I do think that ebooks for things like paperback fiction is a good thing, I don’t think we’re going to see the demise of the paper book any time soon. Many people still enjoy going to bookstores. And the big chains, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc., are going to try their hardest to keep people going to bookstores. Not that they aren’t embracing the ebook as well, but I think they also know that many people still enjoy browsing the aisles of a bookstore, and will continue to do so.

    And I think it’s going to be a hard sell for parents to buy an ebook for their toddlers (I’m sure they’ll have kid-friendly versions soon, or perhaps they already do), but the great thing about a kids book is that it doesn’t run out of batteries, and if it gets ripped, covered in yogurt, chewed on by younger brothers, you can throw it in the recycling bin and you’re only out a few dollars.

    I am also one of those people who doesn’t like the ascetic of the ebook – I know they will get easier on the eyes as the technology evolves, but I still haven’t seen an ebook that I would want to spend my reading minutes on – Kindle, iPad, whatever. Also, and I know this could be a particular thing that may only apply to me, but I get a certain amount of accomplishment when I finish a book – especially a big fat biography or history book. I predict reading a big fat ebook will not give me the same sense of post-marathon euphoria. I also have a tendency to skim text when it’s presented to me on a screen, and I don’t do that with printed books. I don’t know why.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the ebook. For travelling, for people with limited apartment space, for travelling people with limited apartment space, they’re great. But as long as they continue to print books, I will continue to buy them.

    That reminds me – what do you want us to do with the three boxes of books we still have of yours sitting in our spare bedroom? Hmmm?

  2. Wednesday, August 11, 2010 10:24 pm

    I agree with a lot of what you say — I also enjoy browsing book stores, and the feeling of accomplishment finishing a giant tome etc.

    But I recognize all that as somewhat nostalgic behaviour — present nostalgia, if that makes sense. My other needs supersede those things. And of course, for the current or future generations who grow up with paper books not being a big part of their lives, well — for them, ebooks will be normal and paper books not all that special.

    As for my boxes — I’ll take them off your hands at the next possible opportunity.

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