Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Work of the Devil

A few years ago I bought a Sony Reader.  I use it only to read.  It can't shop or surf the web.  I download free books from the public domain and have enjoyed charming slight classics like Gene Stratton Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost, Edna Ferber's Roast Beef, Medium, and E. Nesbit's The Red House.  Now that the novelty has worn off,  I use it less.  My husband has never read an entire e-book.  We're not big e-people.

After a certain point, doesn't one go back to the book? 

Today e-books make up 9-10 percent of trade book sales, says The New York Times.  Can't pretend I'm one of those shoppers.  And apparently people are buying more and more e-readers for their households.  We did admire some pretty new Sony touchpad readers in the window of Radio Shack.  But honestly we don't mind pushing buttons and our old one works perfectly well.

Every feature writer in the U.S. wrote about the rise of e-readers as Christmas gifts.  TV broadcasters also enthused about it.  And in the UK two of my favorite bloggers, Dovegreyreader and Random Jottings, both received Kindles for Christmas.  I read this with interest, and at first assumed Amazon had sent them Kindles for publicity.  These two write very well, and I love to read about their lives as well as their reading, though I admit no one could pay me to read some of the free books they get from publishers.  Then I looked more closely and learned that Random Jottings received her Kindle from Helen and James, while Dovegreyreader merely said she "homed" it. (Are Kindles new in the UK?)  Anyway, they are enjoying it.

The Kindle has a reputation as the most intrusive Bad Boy of e-readers, though the current generation of all brands of e-readers is Big Brotherish. According to NPR, most e-readers have antennae that transmit information back to the manufacturer about what you read.  They also have geo-location technology that can tell where you read. 

"They know how fast you read because you have to click to turn the page," said Cindy Cohn, legal director at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It knows if you skip to the end to read how it turns out."

In the same story, Scott Turow said of Amazon, "They could tell you with precision the age, the zip codes, gender and other interests of the people who bought my books. Now you can throw on top of that the fact that a certain number of them quit reading at Page 45."

As a teacher I was interested to learn that students of all ages loved e-devices. One read The Aeneid on an iphone device (don't know the name of the thing, sorry).  I thought he was texting, though it didn't bother me, and though I don't actually recognize texting, because I don't have a phone.  But he was reading The Aeneid along with the rest of us. Another student brought her Kindle to class and the sleek-looking device interacted with her as the dominant partner. 

I love Amazon and yet think these e-readers are, well, the work of the devil. Eventually the publishers will put themselves out of business with e-texts, just as physical bookstores are disappearing, just as newspapers have crippled themselves by publishing everything free at websites. 

Not to mention the amount of pollution.  Give me a good clean book every time.


Anonymous said...

I can't see myself reading an e-reader. It seems to trivialize the book, rob it of its unique identity as a presence. Yes students use them all the time.

I meant to say to your previous blog: I don't contact relatives lest I be hurt and it's not an unjustified anxiety but probable.


Frisbee said...

I appreciate the book more now I've used the e-reader.
You can't have such personal associations with the e-book as you do with a worn rare book you bought at a used bookstore.

Everybody's experiences with relatives are different and certainly the holidays bring out the monsters in them.