Friday, May 21, 2010

In Defense of Sort of Being a Luddite in the Age of The Kindle & iPad, et al

I know I'm destined to end up like Harry R. Truman, the 83-year-old cur who lived by the side of Mount St. Helens for some-odd 54 years and refused to move despite vehement warnings of its imminent eruption. And maybe that's what's about to happen -- some pyroclastic cloud of detritus will come and forever encase me in rock, a monument to stubborn old fools. Which sounds horrible to me, so I hope that does not happen -- even if only metaphorically. But it probably will, and though I'm hardly old -- 25, so far -- at the present time I am a fool. And being a fool is truly more than half the battle.

I don't really have some grand argument to support my lukewarm aversion to the slow conversion of all printed materials to a tech-based option. It's been debated well enough already by the debaters, the arguers, the deft, well-spoken industry movers and shakers. This guy makes some good points, too. But if I may, I'll just say I think it comes down to tactility. The book as a thing in and of itself. I like having a relationship with the book in and of itself, even if it does little to maximize my effective apportioning of storage space. I like my uneven book stacks. I like libraries, too. I like the sprawling quality of information meeting the eye. I fear its being reduced to compact abstraction.

I know it's useful to have a modest-sized resource that can link you to any text you want at any time, day or night, for a nominal fee. I know book-viewing technology has its merits, but I find its rise and ostensible supplanting of the paperback unsettling. I suppose I'm just concerned about the absolutist bent of the whole enterprise. It seems like only a manner of time before printed materials of all kinds are completely and totally obsolete. Good for the environment, silver-lining-wise. But for the reasons I mention it's less good -- for the nebbish librarian in all of us who lives only and solely for the good of making use of his / her stacks and zealously exhorting others to do the same, with all those annotations in the margins relating to this author's idea or that one's. Oh, if only it were "both / and" instead of "either / or," but that's not how the stars are aligning, um, Mercutio.

It's not a fact that making all published materials of every variety available by one source reduces their value. But that is sort of my opinion. Isn't squeezing each and every book from the same tube a form of postmodern-ey entropy, whereby their discrete and individualized characteristics are lost to the broad watery sea of categorization. There is no quality left in peoples' perception making a book a thing of itself, then, judged exclusively by its own merits. Its own cover.

Lastly, I've never used a Kindle or an iPad. There is also the possibility that it's not as destined to happen the way I've described, that electronic and printed books will both remain in "both/and" harmony. All opinions I state are subject to change, if sufficient evidence moves me to do so. But I ain't never leaving this mountain no how!


  1. Electronic readers don't mark time like good, old-fashioned paper pages, which get coffee stains, dog ears, nicks, tears, abrasions, and other intimations of mortality. That, and electronic readers aren't a spatial object, either, in the sense that you can't watch your book mark slowly march its way through the pages of Proust, etc. Your lukewarm aversion is my white hot contempt! Cheers, K

  2. Indeed, Kevin

    The more I think about it, the more I do take solace that books will probably remain in printed format. There are too many people who like them just the way they are, and for the reasons you describe likely always will / or at least will continue to for the foreseeable future. I reckon I can deal with that.