Sunday, April 17, 2011

Just Say FUCK NO to eBooks! (Polemic) by Alison Ross

Let's be clear from the outset: The print-based book is here to stay. While this may irk some hardcore environmentalists - hell, the idea of trees being butchered for our perusing pleasure should be disconcerting to anyone - it has to be stated in all its naked unequivocality. Books have become too intertwined with our lives for them to simply dissipate into the ether. And yet, there is a profit-motivated momentum to do just that - to trap the tome into the ethereal sphere. In other words, the eBook juggernaut has arrived, threatening to topple towers of tomes more swifty than the speed of light.

It was bound to happen. (Get it? Bound). The advent of electronic media has heralded a whole new age - the digital age. And while on the surface this may seem an innocuous situation, mine more thoroughly and it becomes clear that as tangible items like CDs, magazines and books dissolve into the digital domain, so too does a core piece of ourselves erode.

For we are spiritually submerged in the world of words, but that cosmos is constructed of more than just letters of the alphabet. A book is a MANIPULATEABLE universe, one that you can interact with and personalize. I mean, can you dogear the pages of an eBook to remind you of salient quotations? Can you slip your favorite bookmark into an eReader to mark your place? Can you grab a pen to underline savory passages in the Kindle? Can you slide your finished Nook back into the shelf to nestle among the other Nooks (do we need to construct digital bookcases as well?)? Can you buy a used Kindle with a quaintly worn cover and other visible signals of previous ownership which bond you to other book-lovers across the years?

Can you browse your favorite local eBook store a few blocks away, pausing to behold a book that snagged your eye and heart, purchasing it with romantic visions of curling up on the couch with this tome, befriending its eccentric characters and swimming in its turbulent scenes?

Not only are REAL books essential to our physiological health, but they are critical to universal health. eBooks create electronic and thereby environmental waste, engender more opportunties for slave labor, enrich the coffers of the already-outrageously-aflluent, and alienate us from the sacred, even tactile experience of reading.

Yes, yes, I am writing about the evils of the digital domain on the internet, and in an internet magazine at that. I am fully aware of the dubious hypocrisy of my undertaking. I struggled with the idea of launching an e-zine years ago, as I had previously done a smaller zine on paper. But the internet afforded me a wider readership and zero printing charges. I still do read print magazines, though not as much as I used to, because my tastes have changed, mainly, and I read more books than I do magazines anyway.

But I actually still prefer reading print magazines to online magazines, and indeed I read more in-depth when I read, say, the print version of our local alternative weekly as opposed to the online version. I would love for Clockwise Cat to be a print magazine as well, if only I had the resources. Still, it's worth noting, for honesty's sake, that I did concede to the online magazine movement, and in essence am part of the effort to "destroy" print magazines, however unwittingly.

You could make the same arguments of lower costs and wider readership for eBooks, but I'm not having it. Books and magazines are different beasts. Magazines are issue-based and most are released with frequency, and so their transference to the online sphere makes sense from that perspective. While the eBook may be able to store many books, making it almost like a magazine, what distinguishes books is their individual sense of self. Magazines are compilations of multiple articles by multiple authors. Some books are too, but they aren't generally released serially, and are usually much lengthier than a magazine. The bottom line is, all books exist with a singular sense of purpose. Therefore, they are elevated above magazines and deserve specialized, individualized treatment.

The eBook takeover is far from inevitable. The Dictatorship of the Digital doesn't have to be if we diligently, vigilantly combat it. It is so easy to succumb to iPhones, and iPods, and iPads, and so on (the iBook is next, guaranfreakingteed), because they are convenient and fun. I own an iPod, but I still purchase the vast majority of my music in CD format, and I will continue to do so until it is rendered extinct. I also own a cell phone, but am lately becoming more and more resistant to the "urge" to upgrade to "better" models. There will always be a "better" model - that is how the product-producers lure us into their lair, by making "bigger" and "better" versions that we feel we cannot resist. The whole market is flooded with products that are ultimately unncessary, yet have created a false need. You could argue this about cell phones, too, and I did concede to owning one of those as well. (But I will never EVER do ringtones. EW!)

So even I am not immune to this false sense of "inevitability." I also own a digital camera, when I swore at one point I would never adjust to digital pictures. I even have a Flickr, the final nail in the coffin of my digital-picture-resistance.

But I am putting my foot down with the eBook. Enough is enough. Vinyl may be vital, print magazines and pictures precious, the vintage black phone phenomenal, but the experience of reading REAL books is fucking beatific.

Besides, with digital books, you are now more vulnerable to "marketing-spying," wherein retailers "spy" on you through your digital eBook and tailor ads to your reading preferences. It's bad enough that gmail and some websites do this, but now we have people peeking at us through our books? Will it follow too that we will be inundated with eBook spam?

Where does the madness end?

And furthermore, do we really need yet one more venue that facilitates massive eye strain? It's bad enough we struggle with reading in badly lit areas, and that we spend a huge portion of our time staring a computer screens, both at work and home, but now we have the eBook to reinforce our deteriorating corneas.

In the end, it comes down to this: eBooks are just alienating, for all the above reasons, and more. eBooks do not become part of your living space like real books do. When your bookshelves become too burdened with the weight of all of your books, you buy new bookcases for them, or you pile them onto the floors and tables. Either way, the sight of book-laden cases, or books piled onto floors and tables is a delightful one. It adds to the personal decor of your space. And when your friends come over and browse your bookshelves and note commonalities in your literary tastes, or divergences between them, this deepens the connection between you. Your friends may even borrow a book or two. What's the incentive in borrowing an eBook? Just get your own fucking eBook that stores 10,000 tomes! You see, it just makes us even more narcissistic.

So count me the fuck out of the "eBook revolution." Perhaps I have been a bit of a sheeple in regards to some technological "advances," but I am stomping my sole down on this one.

Give me books, or give me death.

1 comment:

Stephanie Smith said...

I enjoyed the article. And I agree with you wholeheartedly on its contents.