I am not normally one to get excited about gadgets, but I am so excited about the new toy I finally bought for myself, after months of deliberation.
I bought the Sony Digital Reader PRS-505 (there is a newer model, the PRS-700, which for about another $100 gives you a few extra features, including touch-screen technology and backlighting, allegedly at the price of a slightly less crisp screen display).
I thought long and hard about making the switch to digital books over paper. Of course, at this point it’s not a complete switch — lots of books I’m interested in still aren’t available in an e-book format, and since I’d rather pay for a book than download it illegally, I will probably still use the library for a long time to check out books that I’m somewhat interested in but not sure I want to own. Still, I can already see the digital reader replacing a lot of the paper books that are slowly taking over my house.
One of the biggest advantages, I think, will be when I travel. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you will know I have a somewhat addictive relationship to books and reading, and I worry about not getting my “fix” when I travel, which always results in me shoving a ton of heavy books into my luggage and still worrying I might run out. It will be great to load up the digital reader with all the books I could ever want for a trip (and some to spare), then have this one slim, handy thing to pack.
I love the book-like look and feel of the reader in its brown leather cover. I love that a lot. I hope I will save a few trees, as well as some bookshelf space in my house, by buying fewer paper books — though the benefits to the trees may be offset by the disadvantages of whatever horrific environmental process they have to go through to make the digital reader. That always seems to be the way with doing anything environmentally sound — one step forward, one step back.
I had a lively discussion with my friend Uppington about the fact that she feels as if I’m “going over to the dark side” (I may be paraphrasing) by choosing digital over paper. I understand why people have an affection for the physical form of the traditional paper book. I myself love picking up an old, much-read volume and seeing the tired white spine that reminds me how often I’ve had this book in my hands. But if I were to pick up a brand-new, untouched edition of the same much-loved book, with a different cover, it wouldn’t feel the same — yet within minutes, once I began reading, it would be the same. I would argue that the magic of books is contained in their words, not in their pages, and that those words can be just as effectively enjoyed in a digital format.
I suspect digital books may really be the way of the future (I have been wrong about technology before; I refused to buy a DVD player or any DVDs for YEARS because I firmly believed that within a few years everyone was going to be using digital audio tapes and I would be able to play my vast collection of cassettes on the new systems). If they are, I also suspect we’ll always have some nostalgia for the experience of opening a book, the smell of the pages, the feel of a book in your hands. Just like people eighteen hundred years ago probably recognized that the codex was inevitable, but had some nostalgia for that experience of rolling out a scroll, seeing the lines appear one by one as they unrolled it. No doubt they looked at their old basket of scrolls with a sigh for something beautiful that was being left behind by technology.
Scrolls didn’t last; books may not last. Words and stories will. And I hope to enjoy a lot of them on my new digital reader.